Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title


Maybe it was because he had felt Ballesteros’s presence all week, but García, 37, said he felt serene.

Whatever happened, García told himself, he would drive out Magnolia Lane at the end of his 19th Masters appearance having improved upon his career-best fourth-place finish from 2004.

“I felt much calmer than I felt on any major championship Sunday,” García said.

Though García and Rose are longtime friends and Ryder Cup teammates, they could not approach golf courses more differently. Rose is the artist who studiously stays inside the lines; García is the one who follows lines that few others see.

But on the first hole of the playoff, García was the one whose drive found the fairway while Rose’s ball ricocheted off a tree and came to rest in the pine needles, in front of a pine cone. Rose’s pitch landed short of the green while García stuck his approach to 12 feet, eliciting a thumbs-up from Rose. He gallantly hung back to give García the stage to himself, allowing him to bask in applause that had been building for decades.

After Rose tapped in for bogey, the spotlight belonged to García, who rammed in his birdie attempt, and then squatted in relief — or maybe disbelief.

It was the first Masters since 1954 without Palmer, the golf’s first global ambassador, and there could have been no better tribute to his legacy than the partisan American crowd sweetly serenading a Spaniard as if he were its own.

That it took this long for García to join Ballesteros and another beloved countryman, José María Olazábal, as major champions 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.

“Obviously, this is something I wanted to do for a long time,” García said, “but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending.”

Photo

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.

Credit
Mike Segar/Reuters

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

Two young American stars, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, were paired together in the penultimate twosome. Unlike the European duo of Rose and García, they did not spur each other to greatness, or even goodness. Spieth carded a 75, and that was with birdies on three of the last four holes. Fowler, who was bidding to win his first major, had seven bogeys, including bogeys on the last three holes, for a 76. Though they started Sunday within two shots of the lead, Fowler and Spieth finished eight strokes behind García and Rose.

“I’m really happy with the way that we finished this round to get back to red, because for a while there, it was just, you know, what are we doing?” Spieth said.

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.

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.”

McIlroy produced no spectacular moments like Matt Kuchar, whose back-nine 31 included an ace on the par-3 16th, which historically has given him fits. Before Sunday, his cumulative score on the hole was three over.

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

Rose, who won the 2013 United States Open at Merion Golf Club, 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 here. But Rose’s reward was the best view of Spieth’s coronation.

Two years later, he had the best seat for a crowning of another kind.

“I’m disappointed, but hopefully it’s a Masters that is remembered fondly,” Rose said, adding 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.”

It is unquestionably the high mark of García’s career, but his first major title may not even be the highlight of his year. In July, he is set to wed Angela Akins, whom he met when she was an on-air reporter for Golf Channel. Akins, who played golf at Texas Christian, affixed Post-it notes with sunny messages in places like the bathroom mirror where García was sure to see them.

Her positivity helped García, whose negativity toward Augusta National ran so deep that he once declared after a round here that he would never win a major because he lacked “the thing I need to have.”

Now that he has a green jacket, García will not have to hear that he is the best player never to win a major.

“I don’t know if I’ll be the best player to have only won one major,” he said, smiling, “but I can live with that.”

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