In a Masters Tournament final round that wasn’t for the faint of heart, Spain’s Sergio Garcia rallied to win the 81st Masters Tournament in a titanic battle with England’s Justin Rose on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.
It was so tight that the European Ryder Cup teammates had to go an extra hole before Garcia closed it out with a birdie.
“It was a great battle,” Garcia said.
“It must have been fun to watch,” Rose said.
It was the 37-year-old Garcia’s first major championship in 74 starts.
“It’s been a long wait, but it’s that much sweeter because of that wait,” said Garcia, who had been a major championship runner-up four times.
“I think the problem is, because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about, am I ever going to win one?” Garcia said. “I’ve had so many good chances and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me.”
“Sergio is no longer the best player not to win a major,” said the 36-year-old Rose, who has a U.S. Open to his credit and believes he’ll also have a green jacket one day.
“I think this is a tournament I’m going to win,” Rose said. “I’ve still got a bunch of good years in front of me.”
In what was expected to be a throwdown of a final round with six players within four shots of the co-leaders Garcia and Rose at the start of the day, it turned into a back-nine duel between the friends, who traded blows.
“I was interested and surprised nobody was able to make a run on the front nine,” Rose said.
In the end, Garcia and Rose, who finished at 9-under 289, outdistanced the third-place finisher, Charl Schwartzel (68 in the final round), by three shots. Matt Kuchar (67), who had a hole-in-one on No. 16, was fourth at 283, tying with Masters rookie Thomas Pieters (68).
The victory fell on what would have been the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros, the first Spaniard to win the Masters, in 1980. He also won in 1983. Fellow countryman Jose Maria Olazabal followed with victories in 1994 and 1999.
“To do it on his 60th birthday to join him and Jose Maria, my two idols in golf as Masters champions, it’s amazing,” Garcia said. “I thought about him (Ballesteros) in my mind a few times, no doubt about it. I’m sure he helped a little bit with some of the shots and some of the spots.”
In that 1999 tournament won by Olazabal, a young Spaniard named Sergio Garcia was the low amateur.
Seventeen years later, the jacket is his.
Garcia said Olazabal sent him a note of encouragement earlier in the week, noting that he didn’t share his locker in the Champions Locker Room with anyone and that he’d like to share it with Garcia.
After relaying that story during his news conference, Garcia asked that Augusta National make this come true.
Also at the news conference, a somewhat surprised Garcia, who has had a sometimes stormy relationship with Augusta National, said, “I get to call myself Masters champion, that is amazing.”
It took him 19 starts to win at Augusta National, the most by any champion.
In the first sudden-death playoff since Adam Scott beat Angel Cabrera on the second playoff hole in 2013, Garcia birdied the 18th hole with a 12-foot putt after Rose blew his tee shot into the right woods and ended up missing a par putt.
After Garcia rolled in his birdie, he crouched down and then blew kisses to the gallery.
“The support I felt out there, this week was amazing,” Garcia said. “I felt like I was back in Spain.”
On his way off the green, he kneeled again and pounded the green with his fist one time.
Garcia electrified the gallery by rolling in a 14-foot eagle on the 15th to tie Rose, who made birdie and led by two shots after 11 holes.
“That was probably the best 8-iron I’ve ever hit,” he said of his second shot to No. 15.
“I would say this one probably slipped by, sure,” Rose said. “Barring a great comeback by Sergio it was mine to cruise to the house.”
After Garcia knocked his tee shot to six feet on the par-3 16th hole, Rose hit his to eight feet. Rose made his and Garcia missed, giving Rose a one-shot lead with two to go.
Rose bunkered his second shot on No. 17 and couldn’t save par. When Garcia two-putted for par, they were tied going to the final hole.
Rose and Garcia both had short birdie putts on the 72nd hole to win, but missed, sending them back to the 18th tee for sudden death.
Surprisingly missing from the drama was 2015 champion Jordan Spieth, who was just two shots off the lead at the start of play. He bogeyed the first hole and hit it into the water again on No. 12 and made double bogey. Spieth, who had never finished worse than second in three starts, shot 75, the same score he opened the tournament with, and tied for 11th place.