Sergio Garcia wins the Masters
Sergio Garcia was always supposed to win a major championship.
When you’re blessed with the ball striking ability that Garcia has been given, winning golf tournaments and major championships seems like it should be a given, but we all know that’s simply not the case. Whether we’re talking about 1999 at Medinah when he battled Tiger Woods at his peak, scissor kicking up to the fairway at 19 years old and falling one shot short, or losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington in 2007 at Carnoustie because of a putt that somehow didn’t turn right into the hole, Garcia has suffered some bad beats.
Granted, he has brought a lot of it on himself. His putter has always been the weak point of his otherworldly skill set, and while we can’t quantify this with any numbers, his lack of self belief that he could actually win one of these things has definitely gotten in the way over the years. “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have” is what he famously said five years ago, a notion which should have been completely absurd given his level of talent, but quickly became a believable proposition.
On top of that, even though he has won dozens of tournaments worldwide, his talent hasn’t always shone through in the times that it mattered most, and that’s especially true of the major championships. Uncharacteristically bad ball striking, that balky putter or another player simply playing out of their mind always seemed to be waiting for the time to pounce on Garcia like a hungry lion on a gazelle, and after three and a half rounds of action, it looked like it was going to happen again.
Garcia birdied two of the first three holes at Augusta National, which somehow didn’t include the easy par-5 2nd, and after Justin Rose made a bogey on the par-4 5th, Garcia carried a three shot lead. While no one outside of the final group was making a charge, Garcia continued his consistent play, finishing out the front nine with four pars but Rose applied pressure. Three straight birdies on 6, 7 and 8 levelled the scores at 8-under par as they headed to the back nine, and that’s when it all came undone.
When Jordan Spieth unravelled last year at Augusta, everyone rightly pointed to the 12th hole as what ultimately sank him, but it really began on the par-4 10th and it looked like we were in for round two with Garcia. After essentially chunking his drive and having 260+ yards into the 10th green, Garcia pushed his approach into the bushes right of the green, virtually guaranteeing him a bogey.
Rose didn’t hit a great drive either, but managed to get out with a par and took a one shot lead to Amen Corner, where once again, Garcia faltered. Another bad drive, this time into the pine straw on the left side of the fairway, caused another bogey and gave Rose a two-shot lead with seven to play. Two shots on the back nine at Augusta is very doable, but with the two players involved, it felt like it was all over and that feeling was essentially nailed in on the par-5 13th. Just like he had done all week, Garcia tried to cut the corner with his fade, but it didn’t work this time, landing in the pine straw and forcing him to take an unplayable. Somehow though, Garcia would save his par and that was massive, as Rose couldn’t make birdie to extend the lead to three.
Garcia would cut the lead to one after a ridiculously good approach on 14 that feels like it’ll be forgotten because of everything else that happened on Sunday, but watching that ball trundle down to the hole and seeing Garcia make the putt, gave the tournament its life back. For the first time in about an hour, the ending that we thought we were going to see was now in doubt as we went to the final four holes.
Part of the reason why Augusta National is so good is the 15th. Every year, players make or miss the cut because of this hole, and it usually plays a major role in deciding the outcome on Sunday night. With the risk/reward nature of the hole, and the fact that for a lot of the players in the field now, it is very reachable in two shots, it always produces fireworks and this year was no different. Rose and Garcia each birdied the hole on Friday and Saturday, and even though Rose winced and looked to be in some pain after hitting his tee shot on Sunday, both players were in good position in the fairway. Rose pulled his approach to the left side of the green, and while a birdie seemed likely, an eagle was probably out of the question. That’s when Garcia did this:
The roars you heard after that putt went down were nothing new. One of the best things about watching old Masters footage is hearing the roars that would come out after players like Jack, Tiger and Seve would do something great on 15, but for Garcia, those roars were new. Aside from a Ryder Cup held in Europe, those roars are not what he is used to hearing, and it wouldn’t be the last time he’d get to hear them either. The two were now tied, and after jockeying back and forth on 16 and 17, they were tied once again on the 18th tee.
Just as you’d expect from two world class players, they piped drives up the 18th fairway and hit great approaches into the famous 18th green. Rose’s putt, somehow, didn’t turn left at the hole and when you watch it back, the similarities to Garcia’s miss in the 2007 Open are obvious. Rose hit a good putt and it should have turned, but it didn’t and the door was open once again for Garcia to win his first major championship, and he had to do with the putter from six feet. It never had a chance. He was never going to make it easy.
So, we were off to a playoff, and it seemed like for once, something finally went Garcia’s way in a major championship. Rose teed off first and fanned it way right and into the trees, and while the bounce that he got gave him a much better look than he probably deserved, there was pretty much no chance that Rose was going to be able to get on the green in two shots. The door was open yet again, and this time, Garcia would walk through it. Another bullet drive was followed by a superb iron into the green after watching Rose barely advance the ball out of the pine straw, and while Rose was able to get on in three, he was away. When he missed, Garcia had two putts to win, but he only needed one.
Sergio Garcia was now a major champion.
Garcia is complicated. There’s no doubt that in the past, he has rightly been called a whiner and someone who complained so loudly about outside forces as a way to mask his own failures, and of course the big elephant in the room will always hang over his head, but there’s also no doubt that he has grown on and off the course in recent years. He’s happier now than he’s ever been, and instead of the petulant player that so many grew to hate early on in his career, he’s now looked on as one of golf’s elder statesmen by both fans and players. The roar that Garcia heard on 18 would have been much more subdued had he capitalized on all of his promise years prior, but that simply wasn’t the case on Sunday. Golf fans fell in love with Garcia back in 1999, and after time away, are ready to embrace him again.
It wasn’t supposed to take this long. It wasn’t supposed to be this tournament. It wasn’t even supposed to happen the way it did. What was supposed to happen was Garcia was going to win a major years ago, likely the Open Championship, and likely because someone fell back and didn’t play up to their level.
Instead, Garcia got it done at age 37 as a fiancee with a little grey in his beard and much less jump than he once had. He did it at the Masters, a place he loved and then hated and didn’t putt well enough at to consistently contend. And the way it happened? He did it by facing down adversity and not missing a single shot down the stretch against one of the best players in the world. He did what he always supposed to do in the way that he was never supposed to do it.
Sergio Garcia is a major champion, and a very deserving one at that.
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