Brilliant Sergio Garcia Triumphs at Enthralling Masters
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
ON THE day that the legendary Seve Ballesteros would have celebrated his 60th birthday, it was somehow inevitable that the man who was hailed as his heir-apparent when he burst upon the scene almost 20 years ago would finally win his first major at the course the great Spaniard loved above all others.
Sergio Garcia won The Masters after beating Justin Rose in a playoff to win The Masters at Augusta National. It has been a long time coming for the 37-year-old, who five years ago told the world's media at this very course that he wasn't good enough to win majors and was just turning up to play for the place money.
When Garcia hit a shot from the base of a tree at the 1999 US PGA Championship at Medinah and went bounding off down the fairway to see where the ball had finished and then eyeballed Tiger Woods in the group behind, we all thought that we were witnessing the start of a remarkable career, watching the golfer who would challenge Woods for years to come. In the end, Woods won that tournament and went on to collect 14 majors.
Garcia kept knocking at the door but he also kept finding ways to lose - either through his own mistakes or through the brilliant play of his opponents.
But on this April afternoon at this most iconic of all golf courses, it all came right - eventually.
Garcia and Rose began the day tied for the lead on six under par, with a host of world-class golfers snapping at their heels. They included Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar. One by one, the challengers either fell away or failed to make the moves required to put the two Europeans under pressure.
Garcia started brilliantly, with a birdie at the first and another at the third. And when Rose dropped a shot at the fifth to fall three behind, it looked like the Spaniard was on his way to the Green Jacket. But one you know with Garcia is that he is never going to do things the easy way. Rose birdied the sixth, seventh and eighth holes to once again draw level with the Spaniard, both men on eight under. Garcia dropped shots at the 10th and the 11th and with Rose finding his touch at last, the Englishman led the way by two.
The turning point came at the par-five 13th. Rose hit a perfect drive and second shot to the back of the green. Garcia hooked his drive into the bushes, had to drop out under penalty and was unable to go for the green with his third shot. But his fourth came to rest about six feet from the hole. Rose ran his first putt four feet past the hole and looked on as Garcia holed out for the most unlikely of pars. Rose missed his putt.
A brilliant approach at the 14th allowed Garcia to reduce the deficit to a single shot again and then he hit a glorious second to the par five 15h and hold the putt for an eagle. Rose made a birdie and they were tied at nine under par. The tension was unbearable.
Both men hit superb tee shots to the par-three 16th, but Garcia failed to convert. Rose made no mistake. He was 10 under and one ahead again, but he gave it straight back at the next. And so they came to the 18th with everything to play for. Both men found the fairway. Rose's second shot bounced off the slope to the right of the green and came to rest about 10 feet from the hole. Garcia took dead aimed and fired a sensational shot at the hole, with the ball coming to rest no more than four feet away.
You could have heard a pin drop at Rose set his putt on its way. He looked on in disbelief as it grazed the hole. So Garcia had a four-footer to win The Masters. It is the sort of thing all golfers dream about. But he hit a poor putt. Off they went to the 18th again, and this time Garcia split the fairway while the Englishman carved his drive into the trees on the right and was only able to pitch out.
Once again, Garcia struck a glorious approach, this time to about 12 feet. Rose hit a decent third but was unable to save his par, leaving his opponent with two putts to end 18 years of misery. He only required one. Sergo Garcia, 2017 Masters champion.
It is the second time that Rose has come within a whisker of winning at Augusta. He played brilliantly two years ago, only to find that Spieth played even better. After this latest setback he was quick to pay tribute to Garcia, a friend and Ryder Cup teammate. "It is difficult to stand here and not feel good for him," Rose said. "I know what he has been through to win this. I have been there myself. To be honest, I have no complaints. I don't think that I could have played any better. I struck the ball well and I putted well."
Garcia was ecstatic. “From the drive this morning to the course I was very calm. I felt a calmness I’ve never felt on a major Sunday. Even after making a couple of bogeys, I was still very positive. I still believed there were a lot of holes I could go after. I’m so happy. … It’s been such a long time coming.”
“When I came here in ’99 as an amateur, I felt like this course was probably going to give me one major. I’m not going to lie, that thought started changing a little bit. It means even more to win on what would have been Seve's birthday.
Schwartzel finished third, three shots behind. Kuchar’s 67 featured a hole-in-one at the 16th hole. He tied for fourth with Thomas Pieters of Belgium at 283. Pieters shot 68. Then came Paul Casey. Rory McIlroy's attempt to land the career grand slam must wait another 12 months. He shot a final round of 69 to finish on three under par.
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