Sometimes we’re given a reminder of sport’s truly unique appeal. The tension, the excitement, euphoric highs and crippling lows, breathtaking quality and skill – all were manifest in the final round of The Masters this year as Sergio Garcia overcame Justin Rose in a dramatic play-off to win his first Major at the 74th time of asking.
And never has there been a more fitting champion. Garcia’s remarkable triumph arrived on what would have been the late Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday – who in 1980 became the first European to win the Masters, providing a spark of inspiration for young golfers like Garcia. Ballesteros’ death in 2011 shook the golfing, nay sporting, world but Sergio Garcia produced a performance that his fellow countryman would have been proud of.
It was a performance of remarkable steel and nerve. Both Garcia and Rose were neck-and-neck throughout the final nine holes, and each seemed to outdo the other at every turn. Indeed, Garcia spurned the chance to win the title in regulation play, missing his birdie putt on the 18th after Rose had handed him the initiative. The Spaniard was not to be denied though, as Rose’s wayward tee shot in the play-off proved costly for the Englishman, allowing Garcia to keep his cool to slot home for the win.
It was a shame that there had to be a loser, really. Garcia and Rose are good friends off the course and frequently exchanged smiles and high-fives throughout the final day’s play at Augusta. Rose deserves tremendous credit for playing his part in one of the great Masters finishes.
Indeed, at one point it looked as though the title was sliding out of Garcia’s reach and into the Englishman’s grasp. A wayward shot by the Spaniard on the 13th which forced a penalty drop amongst the pine needles, combined with previous bogeys on 10 and 11, were signs that nerves were getting the better of Garcia. However, Rose missed a short birdie putt on the 13th to keep the Spaniard’s hopes alive.
Perhaps the defining moment of this undulating finale arrived on the 15th hole. Garcia needed a moment of magic to claw his way level, and pulled it out of the hat with a stunning approach shot which bounced off the flagpole, followed by a remarkable long putt for an eagle. It was his first eagle in 452 holes at The Masters and could not have come at a better time. It was the morale boost Garcia needed after a wobbly few holes – as if reaffirming his own self-belief that he could indeed get over that finishing line.
Garcia’s win is a lesson to all young sportsmen – that persistence and dedication pays off in the end. The Spaniard turned professional in 1999, and has been among the sport’s best for the last decade or so, but that first Major title had always proved elusive. Garcia’s expression upon dropping in his winning putt was one of relief as much as joy.
Many had felt it was destiny that Sergio Garcia would break his Major duck on Seve’s birthday, on this of all days, but let not circumstance take away from what was a truly fine display under immense pressure. Garcia produced golf of the highest quality in what were testing conditions to score 279 total, four better than the score that delivered Danny Willet the green jacket last year.
It’s a victory for Sergio Garica to savour, and one that even Justin Rose will not begrudge his good friend and rival. As the setting sun peeped through the trees at Augusta, and as Garcia strolled off the course in the late Spring haze, arm wrapped around his fiancee, beaming smile upon his face, it was impossible not to feel a sense of fitting conclusion. Perhaps some things are just meant to be.