Published: Tue, April 11, 2017
Sport | By Noel Norman

Garcia wins 1st major title at the Masters


Garcia birdied the 18th hole, minutes after seeing a shorter birdie try on the same green stay right of the cup, to beat Justin Rose on the first playoff hole of the 81st Masters, the 37-year-old's first major championship after almost two decades of questions of if he'd ever win one.

He still won the Masters, in a playoff over Justin Rose.

Sergio Garcia admitted he had accepted the possibility that he might end his career without a major as he celebrated a stunning victory at the Masters.

He was set to join Danny Willett and Nick Faldo as the only players from England to win the Masters, while giving the country two green jackets in a row. On 11 he pulled his tee shot into bushes and three-putted. Instead of pouting, he figured out how to make par.

"We were cheering each other", Garcia said.

Maybe the narrative that Garcia didn't have the fortitude to win a big tournament was unfair, or at least overblown, but there was certainly plenty of evidence to support it.

Yeah, Garcia has a history, but there's a lot to admire in how far he has come, in what he's overcoming in himself. Then Rose birdied his way back into a tie.

"Ser-gee-oh! Ser-gee-oh!" the delirious gallery chanted to Garcia. He crouched one more time, placing his hand on the green and then slamming his fist into the turf.

All that Spanish passion was on display, raw as ever, this time sheer joy. Justin wasn't making it easy. "He was playing extremely well", Garcia said.

It didn't matter. Garcia curled in a 12-foot birdie that gave him the green jacket.

Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, told the 37-year-old Garcia on the eve of the tournament to "be calm and not let things get to me as I had in the past". That day, Garcia became one of the prime contenders for the maligned "best player to never win a major" tag.

"If there's anyone I had to lose to, it's Sergio", Rose said. "There's no doubt about it, and I'm sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots or some of those putts". "He's had his fair share of heartbreak". After opening with that 75, which included an ugly quadruple-bogey 9 on the 15th hole Thursday, Spieth made only three bogeys the next 36 holes to shot 69-68 and close in on the leaders.

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The 23-year-old from Dallas won't spend too much time worrying about what happened this week, confident that his demeanor, poise and attitude throughout will serve him well the rest of the season. He had to take a penalty shot to get out and hit his third shot 89 yards short of the green.

"That was a two-shot swing", Rose said.

Everyone figured this was coming, right?

Only four others have won the Masters after taking low amateur honors - 18-time major victor Jack Nicklaus, 14-time major victor Tiger Woods, five-time major champion Phil Mickelson and two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. Four times he was runner-up.

It was a goose-bumps atmosphere comparable to Phil Mickelson after his Masters-winning putt in 2004 at the final hole, punctuated by a leap into the air and an "Oh, my God!" reaction to finally capturing his elusive first major. Garcia looked like a fragile man whose spirit had finally been broken.

He hit wedge to 7 feet and escaped with par. Just like the 10-foot, lip-out putt that would have won him the 2007 British Open.

But the lead remained at two, and Garcia had new life.

But Rose's approach found sand on 17 and he couldn't get up and down.

The playoff didn't last long. "And I hit probably one of the best putts I hit all week". He's finished second three times, including twice at the Masters, and third six times. A few players had a fleeting bit of hope, most notably Matt Kuchar after a hole-in-one at the 16th, but no one seriously challenged the guys out front. He tied for fourth with Thomas Pieters, who ran off four birdies on the back nine.

Indeed, Garcia's victory hardly elevated him to the top echelon of favourites in betting for the next major, the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin in June.

Garcia says he has learned to accept bad bounces. "So it's been an incredible week, and I'm going to enjoy it for the rest of my life". "It's not going to be a disaster", Garcia said.

"But", he said finally, a wide smile stuck in place, "it's happened".

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