Sergio Garcia needed 19 holes on Sunday at Augusta to accomplish the following: gain an early lead, drop to two shots back, make an eagle at 15, miss a putt at 18 that sent his battle against Justin Rose to a playoff, and finally — after Rose hit his tee shot into the trees and bogeyed the playoff hole — rim in a tournament-winning putt. And he beamed. On Sunday, Sergio Garcia won the 2017 Masters, and he finally got his first major.
Shout it from the rooftops. Tattoo it onto your body. Write it on a piece of paper, stick that paper in a bottle, seal the bottle, float that bottle into the ocean, and hope it spreads joy to the far corners of the world
Golf provides a kind of theater that no other sport is capable of. In a year marked by miraculous championships — the Cavaliers and Cubs coming back from 3–1 deficits, Leicester City winning the Premier League title, the Patriots defying all predictive measurements to win the Super Bowl — this Masters Sunday was special: It wasn’t Garcia versus Rose, it was Garcia versus Garcia. The Masters has seen great battles throughout its history: Nicklaus against the field in ’86, Phil against Ernie in ’04, Tiger and Chris DiMarco in ’05. But you rarely see someone go head to head with themselves — their past failures, their checkered competitive history. Throughout the tournament, Jordan Spieth and Garcia battled for title of Outstanding Redemptive Story Line: You couldn’t watch five minutes of Spieth coverage without being reminded of his disastrous 12th hole last year, and given that it’s Sergio’s 18th year as a pro, viewers were already well versed in the tragic history of his performances in major tournaments.
Before Sunday, Garcia had finished second in four majors and in the top 10 in 22 major tournaments, but he had never come away with a win. “I don’t have the capacity to win a major,” he told the Spanish press (translated to English) after a frustrating showing in the third round of the 2012 Masters. “It’s the reality.”
That reality chased Garcia around Augusta on Sunday. After he took a three-shot lead into the sixth hole, Justin Rose birdied six, seven, and eight to tie Garcia heading into the back nine. From there, Garcia’s game seemed to splinter. He bogeyed 10 and 11 after hitting shots into poor positions behind trees on both holes but managed to save par on 12 and 13 (even after taking a drop at 13); after a birdie at 14 put him within one shot of Rose, the game seemed to shift.
At the 15th hole, a CBS announcer described the duel as one between an “artist [Sergio] and the tactician [Rose],” seconds before Garcia hit a near iron-in that would lead to a Rose-tying eagle. While Rose was consistent and seemed to have cracked the Augusta code (until bogeys on 17 and the playoff hole upended him), Garcia rode the wave of his game all day: beautiful shots interspersed with clunkers.
Rose again took the lead with a birdie at the par-3 16, but he let Garcia back in with a bogey at 17. As the two left the 17th green and began their walk to the 18th tee, roars could be heard on the broadcast from the patrons surrounding 18 who had just seen the leaderboard change. They, along with other tour golfers, seemed ready for a Sergio victory:
But the old reality had one more trick, as Garcia lined up at 18 for what would have been a tournament-winning birdie putt, and sent it to the right.
With two putts to win in the playoff, Garcia needed only one. Nearly 10 years after he lost in the 2007 Open Championship to Pádraig Harrington in a playoff, he walked out of this one with a victory.
“You can live without a major,” Garcia told the reporters back in 2012. Lucky for him, he doesn’t have to anymore.