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Major breakthrough for Sergio Garcia

04/10/2017, 12:15am EDT
By By GERRY DULAC BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE

Snake-bitten Spaniard wins Masters by beating Rose in playoff


Sergio Garcia reacts after birdieing the first playoff hole to beat Justin Rose. Garcia ended his 0-for-73 drought in majors by winning on what would have been his idol Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday. ASSOCIATED PRESS

AUGUSTA, Ga. — On the day his idol would have turned 60 years old, Sergio Garcia finally saw more than the golf gods smile down on him.

Flashing the determination and fire that made Seve Ballesteros his hero, Garcia paid homage to his late countryman Sunday by winning the Masters in stunning fashion for his first major title — 37 years after Ballesteros became the first European to win the green jacket.

He did it with a mix of incredible shots and heartbreaking missed putts, finally outlasting his friend and European Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose on the first hole of a playoff in the long shadows at the Augusta National Golf Club.

“It’s amazing to do it on his 60th birthday and to join him and [Jose Maria] Olazabal, my two idols in golf my whole life,” Garcia said. “It’s something that’s amazing.”

A player who once taunted and sparred with American galleries, Garcia turned the crowd to his side with a pair of incredible 8-iron approaches that would have made Ballesteros proud: One at the par-5 No. 15 to set up an eagle to tie for the lead and another at the 72nd hole to get inside Rose and set up a potential winning 6-foot birdie putt.

After Rose missed his 9-foot birdie, Garcia missed his, and it suddenly began to look as if it might be another colossal disappointment in a major for the Spanish-born Garcia.

However, as he had on several occasions on the back nine, Garcia came back on the first extra hole and curled in a 10-foot birdie putt to end his 0-for-73 drought in major championships. When he did, he pumped his arms from a squatting position, pounded the ground with both hands, and blew kisses to the crowd who wildly cheered his amazing breakthrough.

Finally, validation.

“A lot of things were going on in my mind — my people, my moments that unfortunately didn’t go my way, some of the things that happened at Augusta, and how stupid I really was to fight against something you can’t really fight,” Garcia said. “It’s been such a long time coming. I felt a calmness today that I’ve never felt in a major on Sunday.”

In one of the best duels to the finish in recent Masters history, Garcia and Rose each shot 69 to finish regulation at 9-under-par 279, three shots ahead of the next closest player, former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel. But it was the seismic shifts in emotion and momentum that framed their battle on the back nine that set up the dramatic finish at golf’s grandest theater.

“It was all eyes on Sergio and he was looking at me and it came down to the back nine on Sunday, which the tournament is famous for,” said Rose, who came close to winning a second major title to go with his Olympic gold medal. “It must have been fun to watch.”

On a day when it appeared his old habits might start to chip at his veneer, the player who once complained the golf gods conspired against him overcame a crooked driver as he entered Amen Corner and changed his fortunes with a 12-foot eagle putt at No. 15 that brought out fist-pumping fire.

Garcia’s drought in majors — second-longest among active players to Lee Westwood — was done.

“If I had anyone I had to lose to, it’s Sergio,” Rose said. “He’s had so much heartache out there.”

It looked as if Garcia was going to have more when he missed makeable birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 and his driver began to betray him as he headed toward Amen Corner. That led to a calamitous three-hole stretch in which he made bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11 and had to take an unplayable lie at the par-5 No. 13 when he drove into the hazard.

But a strange thing happened on his way to another meltdown. Not only did Garcia manage to scratch out an improbable par on the hole, he got an emotional boost when Rose missed a 6-foot birdie putt. When Garcia birdied the par-4 No. 14 from seven feet, he had weathered his poor play to get back within a shot of the lead.

“The par on 13 was big,” Garcia said. “That putt kind of turned the clock a little bit for me. Even though it was a par, it got me more confident.”

Then came the theatrics.

At No. 15, Garcia hit an 8-iron from 176 yards that landed three inches from the cup, setting up a 12-foot eagle that caused a shift. When Rose answered with a two-putt birdie, they were tied with three holes to play. Curiously, the last Masters champion to make an eagle on the back nine during the final round was Olazabal in 1994. It was Olazabal, who also won in 1999, who sent Garcia a text on Wednesday, telling him to believe in himself and to not let anything bother him.

He didn’t. Not a missed 5-foot birdie at the par-3 16th that failed to answer Rose’s 8-foot birdie, dropping him a shot from the lead. Or the missed 6-footer at No. 18 that forced the playoff.

“When I came here in ’99 as an amateur, I felt like this course was probably going to get me at least one major,” Garcia said. “I’m not going to lie, that thought changed through the years. I came to peace with it. I accepted what Augusta gives and takes.”

Then he added, “It’s been an amazing week. I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”

The Masters Top 10

x-Sergio Garcia, 71-69-70-69—279 -9

Justin Rose, 71-72-67-69—279 -9

Charl Schwartzel, 74-72-68-68—282 -6

Matt Kuchar, 72-73-71-67—283 -5

Thomas Pieters, 72-68-75-68—283 -5

Paul Casey, 72-75-69-68—284 -4

Kevin Chappell, 71-76-70-68—285 -3

Rory McIlroy, 72-73-71-69—285 -3

Ryan Moore, 74-69-69-74—286 -2

Adam Scott, 75-69-69-73—286 -2

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Tag(s): Pro  Golf