Finally, after 71 consecutive major championship starts, the curse is dead. Sergio Garcia is a major champion.
Finally. We’re finally writing this sentence. Sergio Garcia is a major champion.
After years and years of heartbreak, failure and Sunday mishaps, Sergio outdueled Justin Rose on an instant-classic Sunday at Augusta National to take home his first-ever green jacket at the the Masters on the first playoff hole.
But what a tournament, and what an amazing moment for Garcia. His first-ever major championship win comes on the would-be birthday of Spanish golf hero Seve Ballesteros. Garcia’s late-day heroics couldn’t help but remind of his famed mentor’s three Masters titles.
It looked like for most of Sunday we’d have a packed, star-studded leaderboard, but the stage cleared for a duel between the two European Ryder Cup teammates fairly early. The others wouldn’t be needed. Garcia took the early lead over Rose, rushing out to a two-stroke lead on the front side behind the brilliant ball-striking that has powered the Spaniard’s entire career. But Rose bounced back to tie things before the end of the front nine, both turning to the backside at 8-under par for the championship.
That’s when Sergio seemed to be turning into the Sergio of the past. A couple of wayward tee shots and slipped putts led to early back-nine bogeys and Rose pulled a pair of shots ahead. If you left Sergio for dead in the trees off the fairway at Amen Corner, few would’ve blamed you.
But things seemed to turn for Garcia at the 13th, where he salvaged a par from the hazard left of the fairway. That set up the scene for brilliant golf theatre, where a nearly magical second shot on the par-5 15th set up Garcia for an eagle to tie things up at 8-under par once again with Rose. After a Rose birdie on 16th that he gave right back on the 17th, both came to the 72nd hole tied with the green jacket on the line.
Then came the 18th, where Rose and Garcia both tossed their approaches tight. Rose missed first, clearing the stage for Garcia to win his first major title with a putt that invoked memories of his putt to win at the 2007 Open Championship. The initial chance at redemption missed to the low side. His second would not, sinking the winning putt on the 18th on his second try in the playoff.
The 37-year-old has grown up since his days of major championship heartbreak and sometimes-petulant attitude. A newfound comfortability with his life and his successes might have beget this bigger success — perhaps thank his soon-to-be wife Angela Akins, who he’ll marry later this year. But even with that new peace of mind, it was still fair to wonder Sunday if Sergio could really be comfortable with himself and believe in the final round with the lead in a major.
Now we have the answer. Garcia kept punching back when we all left him for dead, making putts, hitting shots of a lifetime, and turning in one of the most memorable Masters performances ever.
And now, he’s a major champion.
2011 champion Charl Schwartzel finished the tournament in third at 6-under par.