April 10, 2017: It was worth the wait. Sergio Garcia has been a major champion in the making since he burst on to the scene as the low amateur in 1999, at the Augusta National Golf Club. But 73 trips to the major championships did not yield him the coveted title. Only till he arrived on Masters Sunday in his 19th trip to one of the finest tournaments in golf. The Spaniard survived a thrilling final round spectacle before clinching the title on the first play off hole against Justin Rose.
The two men were nine under through the 18th after an undulating final round came alive on the back nine. Garcia found himself two strokes behind Rose, as the two men went past the Amen Corner. With only five holes left to play, it appeared as if the Brit had a safe margin.
But the back nine on Sunday is a beast, especially so at Augusta. The air and the atmosphere assume an other worldly feel as the golfers inch ever so closer to the iconic clubhouse. Matt Kuchar produced a magical ace at the 16th to surge up the order, and raise the stakes.
Meanwhile, Garcia roared back into contention with a sensational eagle putt at the 15th. A birdie at the 16th helped Rose usurp the lead yet again, but a bogey at the next meant that the two men walked to the 18th tee tied at nine under.
The final hole was a reflection of the class of these two golfers. They split the fairway off the tee, before nailing the approach inside the shadow of the flag. Curiously both men missed their putts – Rose from seven feet, Garcia from five.
That dramatic ending took the tournament into a play off. Unfortunately Rose found just the worst time possible for a poor tee shot, slicing into the woods. Garcia needed to be just disciplined enough from there to clinch his maiden major title. He did just that by staying clean before making an elegant putt to earn the coveted Green Jacket.
The timing was perfect too. Garcia won the title on legendary Seve Ballesteros‘s 60th birth anniversary. The great Spaniard was the first European to win the Masters and a Spaniard at that. Seve is an inspirational figure for several European golfers, especially so for the Spanish.
Garcia will have the luxury of relishing this success for years to come. As they say at the Masters, once a major champion, always a major champion.
Victory helped Garcia join an elite list of winners that started their Masters journey as a low amateur. The Spaniard is now in the company of Jack Nicklaus (Low Am in 1960, 6 Masters titles), Ben Crenshaw (1972,73, 2), Phil Mickelson (1991, 3), Tiger Woods (1995, 4). Garcia was the low amateur in 1999 and had to wait 18 long years for his first title.