Playoff duel excites patrons

Memorable duels between playing partners in the closing round of a major championship don’t happen very often.

After what happened in the 81st Masters Tournament Sunday, there have now been two in the past nine months.

In July at the British Open at Royal Troon, Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson went toe-to-toe, with Stenson winning with an 8-under 63 while Mickelson had 65. Stenson ended up shooting 20-under-par, the lowest 72-hole score in a major championship.

On Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose traded haymakers all day, especially over the final five holes of regulation, in one of the classic Masters finishes.

They went to a sudden-death playoff where Garcia birdied the first hole – No. 18 on the course – for his first major championship in 74 starts. Both players started the day tied for the lead, and in the final group of the day, and shot 3-under 69s to finish at 9-under 279.

Garcia led by three shots after five holes, but Rose rallied with birdies on Nos. 6, 7 and 8, and both made the turn tied for the lead after 2-under 34s.

Garcia trailed by two shots after 11 holes, tied it up with an eagle on No. 15, fell behind by a shot when Rose birdied No. 16 and moved back into a tie when Rose bogeyed No. 17. They both parred No. 18, sending them into the sudden-death playoff.

“He played awesome. I played nicely, too,” Garcia said. “So it was nice to be able to battle that out with him, throughout the whole day.”

“For the most part, it was all eyes on Sergio and he was looking at me, and it came down to the back nine on Sunday here, which is what this tournament is famous for,” Rose said.

“Hopefully, they remember it fondly,” Rose said. “Hopefully, it is a Masters that goes down (in history). It’s always nice to be a part of history. I would have liked to be the right part of it, but nevertheless I hope it’s a good one.”

Garcia, a four-time major championship runner-up, has been known to fade when things weren’t going his way. Not in this Masters, where he shot 71-69-70-69.

That was especially true on the par-5 13th hole. Garcia had fallen two shots behind Rose and saw his drive clip the trees on the left side of the fairway and fall straight down. He had to take an unplayable lie and chipped out, leaving 89 yards to the pin. He knocked it to 7 feet and made that for a par.

“I didn’t hit that bad a drive,” Garcia said. “I’ve been hitting that drive every day like a high cut. This drive was probably going 3 yards left of the ones I’ve hit the other three days, and unfortunately it hit the tree and went in the bush. But in the past, I would have started going at my caddie, ‘Why doesn’t it go through and whatever?’ But I was like, well, if that’s what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance. And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.”

Rose, meanwhile, had to settle for a par on No. 13, missing a 6-footer for birdie. Had he made birdie and Garcia took bogey, Rose would have led by four shots.

“That little two‑shot swing there was kind of when he was back in the tournament,” Rose said. “I feel like, if he misses at that point, I’m four clear and I’ve got my eye on Thomas Pieters and Matt Kuchar (as possible rivals).”

Spain’s Garcia, at 37, is a year older than Rose, who is British. They have long been friends and contemporaries, starting on the European Tour and then on Ryder Cup teams.

So it was heartfelt congratulations that Rose gave Garcia on the 18th green when it was over.

“We obviously gave each other a big hug, and he said, ‘Nobody deserved it more than you do.’” Garcia said. He said, ‘I’m very happy for you. Enjoy it.’”

Rose will have to wait for another year to add a Masters title to his 2013 U.S. Open and 2017 Olympic gold medal.

“I’d like to win three or four green jackets, but one would be enough,” he said. “I just want to win here. So I have plenty more looks, and I feel good about it happening. For me, golf is about April to September. That’s where the big tournaments are. That’s where the tournaments that change your career are. So this was the first one of four (major championships). I feel motivated for the summer, and I will be moving on and setting goals very quickly after this.”

The victory could send Garcia on his way to more major achievements.

“The most positive thing is that I feel like I have so much room for improvement,” he said. “So if I’m here (as a major champion) and pretty much just started, I’m excited. Obviously I’m 37. I’m not 22 or 25 anymore, but I feel I still have a lot of great years in me. And I’m excited for those.”

 

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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