Augusta (United States) (AFP) – Spain’s Sergio Garcia captured his first major golf title on Sunday after 73 failed attempts, making a birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat Justin Rose and win the 81st Masters.
Garcia took his emotional, long-sought triumph over England’s Rose, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion and 2013 US Open winner, after they finished deadlocked on nine-under par 279 for 72 holes at Augusta National.
“Whew, it has been such a long time coming,” Garcia said. “I felt a calmness I never felt on a major Sunday.”
The 37-year-old Spaniard achieved the greatest triumph of his career on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, two-time Masters champion and three-time British Open winner Seve Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
“It’s amazing,” Garcia said. “To do it on his 60th birthday, it’s something amazing.”
Last-group playing partners and friends Garcia and Rose were level for the lead at the start of what become a tension-packed thrill ride of a final round.
“It was a great battle with Sergio all day,” Rose said. “If I had to lose to anybody, it would be to Sergio. He deserves it as much as anyone out here. He has had his fair share of heartbreak. I played well. He made a great comeback.”
Only three players had more major starts without a victory than Garcia before he donned the green jacket symbolic of Masters supremacy.
Garcia led by three strokes after five holes, fell two behind after 11, then roared back to force the playoff and sank a 15-foot birdie putt to claim victory.
“Even after making a couple of bogeys I was very positive. I still believed,” Garcia said. “There were a lot of holes I could get to and I stayed positive.”
Rose’s playoff tee shot soared deep into trees right of the fairway but bounced out onto pine straw while Garcia found the fairway.
Rose could only punch out onto the fairway and scrambled to make a bogey while Garcia put his approach 15 feet from the hole and, needing only two putts to win, rolled in a birdie around the edge of the cup.
Garcia squatted and shook with excitement, rose and screamed with joy and hugged good pal Rose before walking around the green to revel in the moment, pumping his fist and punching the green in delight.
“We were cheering each other,” Garcia said. “We wanted to beat the other guy not the other guy to lose.”
Garcia said he had lost hope of ever winning at Augusta, but “through the years I learned to accept what Augusta gives and takes and that’s why I’m here.”
On the 72nd regulation hole, Rose missed an eight-foot birdie putt, leaving Garcia a five-footer to win, but he pushed it wide right.
“I thought I had it on 18,” Garcia said. “I hit it where I wanted.”
– Garcia on brink of disaster –
Garcia opened the back nine with two bogeys and trailed by two at the par-5 13th, where his drive landed under a bush. He took an unplayable lie penalty, then punched into the fairway.
But on the brink of disaster, Garcia battled back, salvaging a par at 13 and staying two back when Rose missed a three-foot birdie putt.
“I knew I needed to make that putt to stay with it. I knew I was playing well enough,” Garcia said. “That putt really turned the clock a little bit for me. It got me more confident.”
The momentum had shifted and Garcia took full advantage, curling in a six-foot birdie putt at the 14th although Rose parred to stay one ahead.
“I probably hit one of the best 8-irons I ever hit,” Garcia said. “And I hit one of the best putts I hit all week.”
At the par-5 15th, Garcia blasted a tee shot beyond 300 yards then lofted his approach off the flagstick, to set up a 15-foot eagle putt that slowed before falling in to fist-pumping joy as the crowd roared.
Not since Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994 had a Masters champion eagled on the back nine in the final round.
Rose birdied to match Garcia, then birdied the par-3 16th only to bogey and remain deadlocked to set up the closing drama.
South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, was third on 282 with Matt Kuchar, who aced the par-3 16th, and Masters newcomer Thomas Pieters of Belgium in fourth on 283.
England’s Paul Casey was another shot back with Kevin Chappell and second-ranked Rory McIlroy sharing seventh on 285.