Spain’s Sergio García finds his place in Masters history
The enthralling battle for the 81st Masters and the famed Green jacket came down to just one thing. Which of golf’s two top ball-strikers could best hold their putting nerve, that part of their games where both have struggled.
The record books will show Sergio García broke his 73-0 winless-at-the-majors streak by holing a racy 8- foot downhiller for birdie to defeat Justin Rose at the 73rd hole in sudden-death playoff, after each had tossed the lead to the other over the closing holes of regulation play. His heartrate will remain a private matter.
“I was much calmer than Saturday, much calmer than I've felt probably in any major championship on Sunday,” Garcia told the press Sunday evening. “Obviously Justin was playing extremely well but I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believed that I could do it. Thanks to that, I was able to do it.”
When a much-anticipated Sunday afternoon charge from home-crowd favourite Jordan Spieth failed to materialize, when none of the other potential threats from the pack came close to derailing the last-out pairing of Rose and Garcia, and fewer-than-usual booms of applause echoed around Augusta National, it became clear this would be a two-horse race. And a ball striking clinic.
Rose and García, 36 and 37 respectively, have been friends for more than two decades. When it was all over, the Englishman hugged the Spaniard in congratulation and whispered, “Nobody deserved this more than you. I’m very happy for you. Enjoy.”
After leading by as much as three, García bogeyed 10 and 11 to gift Rose a two-stroke lead. After their tee shots at the 13th, with García forced to take a penalty drop and no chance to reach the green in three, García offering Rose his congrats seemed by far the more probable outcome.
Enter the vagaries of golf, when neither challenger is a dominant putter. And let’s face it, there are few who truly relish seventy-two holes of the nerve-jangling examination Augusta National delivers. Who would have believed the oft angst-ridden Spaniard would clutch-save par here with Rose three-putting for the same score?
Superb approaches to 14 and 15 lift García from contender to a tie, a missed 3-footer at 16 sends him back into deficit, only to receive a similar short-miss gift from Rose at 17 again tying the match.
Nobody played the tough uphill 18th better than García on the two occasions it took to clinch the title and put his demons to rest for good. When his first edgy attempt to close Rose out slid off line, Sergio did what all great players do: he regrouped and next time around hit an even better approach.
For going two decades García has been considered one of golf’s greatest under-achievers, initially thrust into the limelight at the 1999 PGA Championship where he came within a whisker of defeating Tiger Woods for that title. So it’s easy to forget he’s won 30 times in his career, nine on the PGA Tour and four major title runner-up spots prior to this life-changing win.
The tournament began with a tear-jerking opening ceremony with Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne laying Arnold Palmer’s Green jacket over a chair on the first tee. The 4-time Masters winner passed away last September at age 87 and was honoured all week with “Arnie’s Army” buttons.
Yet it was another Augusta icon who was recalled Sunday, the day that he would have been 60. The newly crowned Masters champion said he was very conscious his win came on Severiano Ballesteros’ birthday.
“It definitely popped in my mind a few times, there's no doubt about it,” García said. “And I'm sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots or some of those putts.”
Strikingly, the last player to eagle the 15th hole Sunday on route to victory was no other than García’s other homeland idol, José María Olazábal.