By Sam Belden
After nearly two decades on the world stage, what can you say about Sergio Garcia that hasn’t already been said?
How about this: “That guy’s a major champion.”
Yes, it finally happened for Garcia, the top Spanish player of this era. After a career of near-misses and what seemed like a lifetime of scar tissue, the 37-year-old finally had his moment in the sun at the Masters, knocking in a rousing birdie on the 18th hole to down longtime Ryder Cup teammate Justin Rose in sudden death.
It was surreal. Garcia has been playing well this year, picking up a European Tour victory in Dubai, but had done nothing to indicate that his famous major drought was approaching its end. Sunday’s green jacket ceremony was like the best kind of surprise party: disarming, thrilling and totally unexpected.
Maybe the win shouldn’t have shocked us. Golf history is pretty clear: if a player keeps knocking at the door, it will usually swing open eventually. But if we’re going by history, then Garcia had no business winning a Masters — not with all that heartbreak over the years. A man can only fumble away so many British Opens before people start to conclude that there’s no room for him at the inn.
And through 11 holes of Sunday’s final round, it looked like the same old story. Garcia had just squared his second consecutive bogey, giving Rose a two-stroke lead, and with inaccurate drives and misread putts peppering much of the last hour, the Spaniard didn’t appear to be in any shape to make a charge.
Appearances can be misleading though, and after fighting hard for a couple of adventurous pars, the levee finally broke. With his confidence restored, Garcia birdied 14 and eagled 15, suddenly evening the score with Rose as the rest of the field languished. He then parred 16 and 17, watching as his English opponent made a birdie, then a bogey and then, on 18, a par. Suddenly, Garcia had a five-footer to win the Masters — and he missed, finishing regulation in a tie.
However, salvation came quickly in the playoff, as Rose drove his ball into the pine straw and hit a thin punch shot with his second. Garcia took a textbook approach — fairway in regulation, green in regulation, unnecessary 20-foot birdie to win. Now that’s how you do it.
And now, he can rest. A round of golf lasts a few hours. A green jacket lasts forever. It took him years to pull it off, but now that he has, the only black mark on his career is gone.
You couldn’t have scripted it any better. Never mind the riveting showdown with Rose — Garcia won the Masters on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros, Spain’s greatest player. He also became the first winner to eagle the 15th in the final round since Jose Maria Olazabal, a countryman and close friend, did it in 1994.
And now, Garcia will forever reside in that pantheon of Spanish greats. It really is amazing how much can change in a week.