It had been 74 starts without a major title.
In 1999, Sergio Garcia came on the scene as a hard charging, free wheeling Spanish Armada going toe to toe with the great Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship at Medinah and just came up short after a valiant effort that just came up short. He looked like a multiple major winner at the inception of his career. But 18 years later, he had gone through a lot of "heartbreak" as playing opponent and first class sportsman and gentleman Justin Rose said after the epic duel yesterday between and "El Nino." and him.
Garcia was not going to be denied this time. In his 74th major start and his 19th Masters start, the 37 year old from Borriol, Spain came through at the penultimate major with clutch shot after clutch shot, and clutch putt after clutch putt in what turned out to be an epic match play duel with the stellar Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open victor at Merion, and Olympic Golf Medal winner at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Garcia had finished second twice at the Open Championship in 2007 in a sudden death heartbreak loss to Irishman Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie, and in 2014 at Royal Liverpool a Rory McIlory victory by two shots over Garcia and Rickie Fowler. He finished 2nd to Tiger in '99, and in 2008 he lost again to Harrington by two shots at Oakland Hills in Michigan. Harrington won 3 majors between 2007 and 2008, 2 Open Championships and a PGA.
But this time Garcia was not going to collapse. He was going to dig in, reach back like his heroes Seve Ballesteros, owner of 5 majors including Masters victories in 1980 and '83, and Jose Maria Olazabal, two time winner of the Masters in 1994 and '99 did in their epic performances at Augusta National. It would have been the late Ballesteros' 60th birthday yesterday. That made it even more magical. Olazabal had sent Sergio a text last Wednesday telling him essentially to not get down on himself, to hang tough, to fight through adversity.
And that's exactly what El Nino did. All that frustration was put to rest with his historic performance. His amazing par save on 13 from 7 feet that kept him just two shots back was crucial. Rose was on the back of the par 5 in 2 and had a chance to possibly extend the lead to 4. It seemed likely he would. But Sergio's make put a little more pressure on Rose and he missed from four feet for birdie. Sergio birdied 14 to get to 1 back at -7. Then he hit an 8 iron on his second shot on the par 5, 15th, to 14 feet and dramatically sank the eagle putt. Rose birdied the hole and the competitors were even at -9. No.16 brought more drama with Rose hitting his tee shot on the par 3 to 7 feet, and Garcia countering Rose knocking it just below the hole, 5 feet for birdie. Rose sank his attempt and Garcia pushed his 5 footer and missed. But on par 4, 17, Rose couldn't get up and down from the sand, and Sergio parred, setting up some dramatics for 18 with both players at -9
. Both players scorched their drives right down City Hall. Rose employed the philosophy of Thomas Jefferson on his second shot, "the harder I work the luckier I get," as he guided the ball to the right side of the green, but got a kick off the fringe with the ball rolling up to 14 feet away. Then Sergio came right back and knocked it 6 feet above the hole for birdie. Rose misread his putt. He had an inside left putt an stroked it in the center. He missed to the right. Sergio had a relatively straight putt and pushed it again to the right. He didn't putt enough pace on it.
It was time for some extra holes. Back to the 18th, Rose was first and hit his drive through the super tight chute of trees into the right pines. He was in trouble. Sergio ripped his down the heart of the fairway. Rose's only option was to punch it out and he didn't catch it very well off the pine straw and barely got his ball past Sergio in the fairway. Sergio was next and hit his approach to 12 feet above the hole and now was firmly in command. But it was match play so anything could happen.
Rose hit his third shot to about 14 feet again. He would be putting for par. It was the same putt he had in regulation so this was a possible make. He putted first and missed. Sergio just needed two putts to win the 81st Masters. He made the outcome academic by sinking his birdie and pulling off a spectacular performance in a Masters for the ages.
The 37 year old, now owner of 10 PGA titles, a major title, the most historic one, a superb Ryder Cup record, which really aided him at Augusta National yesterday, and recently engaged to be married, can finally enjoy this moment. He can now enjoy his hard earned, hard fought, courageous major championship victory.
Now with this confidence he gained through his superior fortitude and mettle yesterday, who knows, maybe the U.S. Open in Erin Hills, the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, or the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow is now possible. Everything is possible once you break through, and the matador from Espana finally did, and can now put that major-less title behind him and relish playing and competing in major championships and tour events now more than ever.