Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title

AUGUSTA, Ga. — In Europe, the man who popularized golf was the Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who was Arnold Palmer with an accent. Like Palmer, Ballesteros was very, very good when he hit his drives straight and even better when they went crooked.

In 1980, three months after Sergio García was born, Ballesteros won the first of his two Masters titles. García grew up idolizing the swashbuckling Ballesteros, whose influence on García’s golf and his life was immense.

Nearly six years after Ballesteros died of brain cancer, on what would have been his 60th birthday, García conquered the field, Augusta National Golf Club and his demons — not necessarily in that order — to win the Masters.

It was García’s first major title in his 74th start, and perhaps fittingly, he had to go an extra hole to secure it. He missed a seven-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole to win it, conjuring memories of the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie when García also missed a putt for the victory on the final regulation hole and then lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington.

García’s tortured history in majors would not repeat itself. After García and Justin Rose signed for their closing three-under-par 69s to finish 72 holes at nine under, García found the fairway with his drive on the first extra hole, the par-4 18th.

García’s second shot came to rest 12 feet from the pin, a result that elicited a thumbs up from Rose, who had missed the fairway with his drive and failed to find the green in two shots.

Rose, 36, hung back to give García the stage, and to allow him to bask in the patrons’ applause. After Rose tapped in for bogey, the spotlight belonged to García, who rammed in his birdie attempt. He squatted in relief, or maybe disbelief.

That it took him so long to win a major would have been hard to conceive in 1999, when García burst onto the scene as a teenager with a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the P.G.A. Championship.

“It’s been such a long time coming,” García said in an interview in Butler Cabin. He added, “I felt a calmness I’ve never felt on a major Sunday.”

That was apparent on the back nine, when it started to look as if García’s round was falling apart. Beginning the day at six under, García birdied two of the first three holes and briefly had a three-shot lead.

But Rose drew even on the strength of three consecutive birdies starting at the sixth. After they both made the turn in two-under 34, García gave up the lead with a bogey on the par-4 10th, where convention holds that the Masters officially begins.

García bogeyed No. 11 as well, falling two shots back, and then his tee shot on the 13th hole ended up under an azalea bush. But he managed to save par, and Rose barely missed a birdie putt, keeping García in striking distance.

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Justin Rose reacted after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation on Sunday. He later lost in a playoff to Sergio García. CreditMike Segar/Reuters

A birdie on the 14th got García one shot closer. At the par-5 15th, he hit a stunning second shot onto the green that led to an eagle. After a Rose birdie, the two were tied again, at nine under.

Rose birdied the 16th but gave back the lead with a bogey at the 17th so that the final group arrived at the 18th tee tied at nine under. Both men missed birdie putts, sending the tournament to a sudden-death playoff.

García and Rose finished three shots ahead of Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion, who recorded a 68 to finish alone in third.

Matt Kuchar, a fan favorite at Augusta since his college days at Georgia Tech, made a charge with a back-nine 31, including a hole in one at the par-3 16th hole.

“What a thrill,” said Kuchar, who posted a 67 to finish tied for fourth, at five under, with the Masters rookie Thomas Pieters, a 25-year-old Belgian.

The two young American stars Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were paired in the penultimate twosome. Unlike the European duo of Rose and García, they did not spur each other to greatness, or even goodness. Spieth shot a 75, even with birdies on three of the last four holes. Fowler, who was bidding to win his first major, entered Sunday one shot off the lead, but he made seven bogeys for a 76.

At one under, Spieth and Fowler finished in a five-way tie for 11th with Hideki Matsuyama (67), Russell Henley (69) and Brooks Koepka (69).

Second-ranked Rory McIlroy, seeking his first Masters title to complete a career Grand Slam, carded a quiet 69, with four birdies and one bogey, to finish in a tie for seventh with Kevin Chappell (68).

Unlike Spieth, who was trying to become the first man to win a major with a quadruple bogey on his card, McIlroy did not implode on any holes.

“I didn’t shoot any nine-hole scores that were in the 40s,” he said. “It was quite a consistent, steady Masters for me.”

Rose, who won the 2013 United States Open at Merion, another classic layout, dearly wanted to win at Augusta National and join a club of champions that includes his countryman Nick Faldo, a three-time winner. In 2015, Rose broke par all four rounds here and finished 14 under par. His score would have been good enough for the victory or a spot in a playoff in all but six of the majors that have been contested at Augusta National. But Rose’s reward was the best view of Spieth’s coronation.

After earning a share of the 54-hole lead with García, Rose acknowledged that he probably would not be the patrons’ first choice for leading man. Not when he was sharing center stage with García, whose victory he imagined — correctly — would be popular.

“I’m disappointed, but hopefully it’s a Masters that is remembered fondly,” Rose said. “I would have liked to be on the other side of history, but it did feel historic.”

He added that he “couldn’t be more pleased” for García.

“You don’t want to lose,” Rose added, “but it hurt less to lose to him.”

Source-nytimes.com

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