After just one hole on Sunday at the 2017 Masters Tournament, Sergio Garcia led in the final round of a major. It was not the first time he has contended for one of the premier titles in the game, but he has been infamous for his failure to capitalize on his superior talent. This time was different. He and his lifelong friend Justin Rose went toe-to-toe for 19 holes, but in the end the jacket belonged to the Spaniard.
Anyone who has followed Garcia’s career would have been long waiting for this. He has had more than his fair share of snake bites in major tournaments over the years, though, and it was difficult not to be expecting another heartbreak as he made his way around Augusta on Sunday. It often felt like watching a horror movie when the creepy music starts, anticipating the fright.
When Sunday’s round began, some of the hottest players in the game stood poised to grab the jacket from the 54-hole leaders — Garcia and Rose — but the pressures and difficulties of Sunday at Augusta whittled them down one by one. The pairing of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth had promise, but fireworks failed to materialize. The two young Americans each shot over par and never threatened to contend on the back nine. Thomas Pieters resumed his great play from earlier in the week, and Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one on the 16th hole to pressure the leaders, while Charl Schartzel posted 6-under par ahead of them. That was as close as anyone would get, though.
Much must go right for a player to win any tournament, let alone the Masters. Not everything went right for El Niño, but enough did.
Garcia gave himself plenty of opportunities to relive that magic from Medinah down the stretch on Sunday, but he could not seem to pull off the miraculous shots his wayward driving necessitated, leaving window after window open for Rose. A par from the bushes on the par-5 13th kept him in the tournament when all could have been lost. He almost holed his second-shot approach on the par-5 15th, but made the eagle putt with dead weight to tie Rose with three holes remaining.
The players had the hole surrounded on the par-3 16th, but only Rose would make the birdie putt. The par-4 17th saw a flip back, as Garcia made par to Rose’s bogey, setting up one final hole to decide the Masters champion. Both players drove straight down the middle of the 18th fairway, and both tucked their approaches in tight. The two pugilists — the two great friends — sized up putts inside 10 feet. Rose missed his effort, clean though it was.
Garcia stood over his putt poised to erase half a lifetime of frustration, but he left it out to the right, and the 2017 Masters was headed to a playoff. There was a time when that would have been the end of it, when the tournament committee could start sizing Rose’s green jacket, but Garcia took it in stride.
Back to 18. Rose’s tee shot found the trees to the right, but Garcia was steady, finding the fairway on the right side. Rose punched out, leaving Garcia the chance he needed. His approach to the hole left him 10 feet again for birdie, and Rose followed him onto the green. Rose had to make it. When his effort snuck past the hole on the low side, Garcia had two putts for the win. He needed only one.
When his bride to be ran up and hugged him on the green, Garcia appeared 10 pounds lighter than he ever has. When a golfer makes a swing change and finds success, it is redeeming. When a player finds peace, allows it to affect his whole being and finds success, it is redemption. What Garcia found on Sunday at the Masters was peace for a lifetime. He will never be a sob story again. The near misses and the blowups are all gone. He did it, and he did it with class.