MASTERS 2017: SERGIO GARCIA FINALLY WINS FIRST MAJOR TITLE

The wait is over for the former “best player never to win a major,” as García is the last man standing at Augusta.
BY: EMILY KAY | SB NATION

It took him 74 starts, but Sergio Garcia finally entered the pantheon of major winners after a grueling 73-hole duel with Justin Rose that culminated on Masters Sunday. His victory, a study in perseverance and resilience, in the first frame of a sudden-death playoff was worth the wait. No longer one of the “best golfers never to win a major,” Garcia rebounded from two shots down with six holes to play and can finally call himself a major champion.

If at first, you don’t succeed …

Sergio Garcia went 73 major starts without hoisting a trophy. His 0-fer streak finally came to an end on his 74th try, with his dramatic playoff victory over Justin Rose on Sunday at Augusta netting the 37-year-old the first of what was supposed to have been at least a handful of major titles.

In a back-and-forth battle for supremacy with Rose, his 54-hole co-leader and final-round playing partner, Garcia had to dig deep all day long. He could have packed it in and given in to what appeared to be his destiny as a perennial also-ran several times down the stretch. After the duo made the turn tied for the lead, though, the adage that the Masters doesn’t start until the back nine on Sunday proved exactly right.

Indeed, the incoming nine holes were a microcosm of the Spaniard’s career, as he combined thrilling, dagger-to-the-heart-of-his-opponent moments of joy with head-scratching shakiness that seemed bound to send him to another dispiriting finish.

On the par-5 13th, for instance, Sergio overcame a certain tourney-losing miscue when he had to take a penalty shot from under trees on the pine straw and escaped with an improbable par to match Rose’s, and save his tournament. Then he missed a six-footer for birdie on 16, and watched as his misread birdie putt from five feet at 18 wobbled by the cup. 

Indeed, instead of throwing up on his shoes, as a younger, brasher El Niño may have done, this day, on this course that does not exactly fit his eye, Garcia dug deep.

“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, ‘Oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through?’” Garcia said afterward. “I was like, well, if that’s what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.

But Garcia found redemption down the stretch. He stuffed a short iron to six feet and made birdie on 14 and an eagle on the 15th after clipping the pin with a superb approach shot over water that left him 15 feet for the one-putt to share the lead. And, finally, when he took full advantage of Rose’s errant drive in the playoff, it was the other guy’s turn to grab Sergio’s hand and rue what might have been.

“I’m not going to lie; it’s not the golf course that I’m most comfortable in,” said Garcia. “I’ve become more of a fader than a drawer of the ball, and this golf course is asking you to hit a lot of draws. But I knew that I could still work it around, you know, if I just accepted what was happening. So I’m very proud of that.”

Clang clang clang went the golf ball

Rory McIlroy learned the hard way that, like Tiger Woods in 2013, ricocheting a golf ball off a flag stick will likely cost you the Masters.

On a shot reminiscent of Woods’ controversial carom off the 15th pin four years ago, McIlroy watched in disbelief as his approach shot to the par-4 18th green smacked into the metal pin and caromed sideways some 20 feet down a slope and back into the fairway. The winner of four majors who’s still in search of a green jacket to complete the career grand slam, McIlroy, at even par in Friday’s second round, was in terrific position to stick his ball close and become a contender heading into the weekend.

Alas, it was not to be for the 27-year-old Ulsterman, who can’t seem to catch a break at Augusta. On track for a closing birdie and a 1-under overall tally to stay within two strokes of 36-hole co-leaders Charley Hoffman and Sergio Garcia, McIlroy instead missed a short par putt. He walked off the course with a disappointing 1-over 73 and 1-over for the week.

“I thought it was perfect. It was a good number,” McIlroy declared about the shot. “I hit a really good shot, just a bit unfortunate.”

You’ll never win a green jacket with a quadruple-bogey on your scorecard

For the second time in two years, Jordan Spieth rung up a really ugly crooked number on his scorecard, and for the second straight Masters, a quadruple-bogey cost the 2015 champion a run at a second green jacket.

Spieth said prior to last week’s event at Augusta that he was anxious to put his double-dunked 7 on the par-3 12th in last year’s contest behind him so everyone would finally stop talking about the final-round collapse that cost him the tournament. Instead, the two-time major champion added another soggy quad to his résumé in Thursday’s opening round and once again found himself outside the winner’s circle.

Through three rounds last week, Spieth appeared to chase the demons that bedeviled him on No. 12 when he made par each time and got himself back into contention after the watery 15th on Thursday. So much so that he was among the favorites to prevail come the finale.

Then came Sunday and things went downhill quickly, as Spieth played his first 11 holes in 3-over and himself out of the tournament. Though he did make birdies on three of his final holes, including at the last, No. 12 once again was his nemesis.

Spieth did escape the dreaded quad, but a double-bogey on the short-but-dangerous par-3 put an exclamation point on another disheartening finish for the 23-year-old. Easier said than done, but the clear lesson here is never make a quad at the Masters if you want to win.