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Sergio’s time to shine: Garcia wins first major in Masters playoff

April 10, 2017 GMT

AUGUSTA — He did it.

In his 74th major start, after years of heartbreak, a dozen top-five finishes in majors, and after what looked like so many times he gave it away Sunday, he finally did it.

On what would have been the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros, and after becoming the first winner to eagle 15 in the final round since Jose Maria Olazabal 23 years ago, Sergio Garcia joined his two idols and became the third Spaniard to win the Masters Tournament.

“It’s amazing. To do it on his 60th birthday and to join him and Olazabal, my two idols in golf my whole life, it’s something amazing,” Garcia said. “Jose sent me a text on Wednesday night telling me how much he believed in me. And what I needed to do. And just pretty much believe in myself. And being calm and not letting things get to me that I’ve done in the past.”

Garcia birdied the 18th hole, minutes after seeing a shorter birdie try on the same green stay right of the cup, to beat Justin Rose on the first playoff hole of the 81st Masters, the 37-year-old’s first major championship after nearly two decades of questions of if he’d ever win one.

Each missed makeable putts on 18 in regulation, Rose from 7 feet and Garcia from 5, to stay at 9 under and send the Masters to a playoff for the fourth time in the last 9 years.

It didn’t last long.

Rose’s tee shot flared to the right into the trees, and he could only advance the ball just in front of Garcia’s drive with his punch shot. He missed again on 18, his par effort breaking across the hole, leaving Garcia with two chances for the title. He needed one.

Rose reached 8 under with a birdie on 8 and stayed there all the way to 15 while Garcia gave shots away at 10 and 11. A birdie at 14 got Garcia back within a shot, and then he took the lead with the eagle on 15. His second shot, an 8-iron from 192 yards out, nearly flew into the hole and left him 14 feet away from a 3. He jarred the putt, the ball dying just inside the front lip, for an eagle – shades of Olazabal, who’s 3 on 15 on the final day propelled him to a two-stroke win over Tom Lehman for his first of two green jackets.

It was Garcia’s first eagle at the Masters in his last 452 holes – just more than 25 rounds’ worth.

Rose still had a chance to tie, and he did with a birdie that sent it to 16. He birdied there from 8 feet, while Garcia’s 5-footer to match didn’t touch the hole, for a one-stroke lead. But Rose bogeyed 17 to send it to the last, all square.

“Could I have made the putt on 17? Of course I could,” said Rose. “But for the most part, I’m not going to sit here and second guess one or two shots. I really stepped up. I felt great. I felt in control. I felt positive. I felt confident.”

The penultimate pairing of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler had the star power, but the final twosome of Garcia and Rose had the staying power. Fowler entered the day one back, Spieth two; both finished eight behind after rounds of 76 and 75, respectively.

Ryan Moore and Charley Hoffman, like Spieth at 4 under to start the day, both fell back as other players shot up the leaderboard with under-par runs.

The top eight finishers posted rounds in the 60s. Matt Kuchar’s 67 was the day’s best and got him to 5 under, and Charl Schwartzel (6 under), Thomas Pieters (5 under), Paul Casey (4 under) and Kevin Chappell (3 under) all shot 68.

But there was no catching the leaders, who made their way to the back nine tied at 8 under and gave the tournament a match-play feel.

“I was really interested and surprised that nobody was able to make a run during the front nine,” Rose said. “And it was – Sergio got off to a great start, and when I birdied 6, 7 and 8, it became pretty apparent that it was me and him down the stretch, really.”

Garcia hadn’t been as tortured at Augusta National – he had three previous top-10 finishes and was the low amateur in 1999. Garcia’s best finish before Sunday was a tie for fourth in 2004. That, of course, was the year Phil Mickelson broke his own major drought by winning the Masters in dramatic fashion. That day, Garcia became one of the prime contenders for the maligned “best player to never win a major” tag. Garcia’s wait was longer.

“It’s funny, I have seen it several times, when I came here in ’99 as an amateur, I felt like this course was probably going to give me at least one major,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, that thought kind of changed a little bit through the years, because I started feeling uncomfortable on the course. But I kind of came to peace with it the last three or four years. And I accepted what Augusta gives and takes. And I think because of that I’m able to stand here today.