National Post

At long last, Garcia Master of his domain


- Postmedia News sstinson@ postmedia. com Scott Stinson in Augusta, Ga.

Sergio Garcia was trying to channel Seve Ballestero­s on what would have been his hero’s 60th birthday, but he probably didn’t want to channel him quite that much.

One of golf ’s most tragically doomed figures over the past two decades survived a wild closing nine holes to finally seize the major title that has eluded him for so long with a Masters playoff win over Justin Rose.

It was a Ballestero­s- style victory, complete with several visits into the Augusta National shrubbery, penalty strokes, choked putts — and j ust enough spectacula­r shotmaking.

The win wasn’t secured until Garcia gave up a healthy lead early, and then missed short birdie putts on the 16th and 18th holes, the latter of which would have handed him the tournament.

He won, finally, on the first playoff hole with a birdie to Rose’s messy bogey. When his 12-foot putt that he really didn’t need dropped, Garcia clutched his fist and crouched low in celebratio­n

“He’s probably got Seve with him right now,” Canada’s Adam Hadwin had said earlier on Sunday. Maybe he did.

“It’s been such a l ong time coming,” said Garcia, who first made his name as a 19- year- old in the PGA Championsh­ip who almost stared down Tiger Woods. That was almost 20 years ago. He has said this week that he has been trying to accept the breaks — good and bad — that happen in golf, in contrast to some of his woeis-me reactions to past major struggles.

Garcia credited some of that inner calmness to a happy home life. He is engaged to be married to Angela Akins, a former college golfer, in July.

“Today I felt the calmest I’ve ever felt in a major on a Sunday,” Garcia said. “And even after making a couple of bogeys, I was still very positive. I still believed that there were a lot of holes that I could get to. And I hit some really good shots coming in. I’m so happy.”

Garcia, trying to break a 73- major winless streak — the second- longest among active golfers — jumped out to a three- shot lead on Sunday only to give it all back and then some. He roared back again, but a six- foot miss for birdie on 16 allowed playing partner Rose to reclaim the lead by a shot when he made his birdie putt.

The 36- year- old Englishman, Garcia’s frequent Ryder Cup teammate, gave the lead back on the following hole, and left the title there for Garcia to take, but the Spaniard’s miss on the closing hole gave Rose life in the playoff.

It took a while for the Masters to serve up its traditiona­l Sunday drama, but just when it looked like Garcia had done very Sergio things to play himself out of yet another major, the 37-year-old Spaniard rallied.

After dropping shots on the 10th and 11th holes to fall two shots behind Rose, Garcia pulled his drive on the par- 5 13th into the left bushes. He took a penalty stroke for an unplayable lie, as Rose hit his second shot just over the green for what looked like an easy up- anddown birdie. But after a wedge and a steely par- saving putt from Garcia, Rose missed a six- foot birdie attempt and what looked like a possible four- shot lead instead was just two.

Garcia, with 19 years worth of disappoint­ment in the major championsh­ips behind him — literally if not figurative­ly — followed that with a birdie on the 14th and then a spectacula­r eagle on the 15 th hole, dropping a 14-foot putt that just died into the centre of the cup. Rose followed that with a birdie of his own, and the two were tied at 9- under going to the 16th tee. No one else on the course was anywhere near their lead.

Rose seized the lead with a birdie on the par- 3 16th that Garcia couldn’t match, but the Englishman gave it back with a bogey on 17.

Sunday began with a number of players bunched behind the leaders, including Jordan Spieth, who had made Augusta National look alarmingly easy over the past few years, minus a couple of meltdowns, and Rickie Fowler, who has long looked ready to break into the major- winning club. Former Masters winners like Adam Scott and Charl Schwartzel also lurked.

But in the early going, when the safe bet was that Garcia would crumple in the moment, he instead played like the guy with the least to prove. He birdied two of his first three holes, and would have done so on all three had he not missed a fivefoot birdie putt on the par- 5 second hole.

But his biggest moment on the opening stretch came on the seventh hole, where he went from the trees to the front bunker to above the hole — and coolly drained a downhill seven- footer to save par. Just like the parsaver he made on 18 on Saturday evening, it was the kind of putt that had killed Garcia in the game’s biggest tournament­s before, the kind of putt that explained why he had gone 73 majors without a win.

But while the other contenders faded, allowing Garcia to build an early threeshot lead, it was his playing partner that put on the heat. Rose followed a bogey at five with three straight birdies, the last of which appeared to spook Garcia, who missed a short birdie putt at the eighth hole that would have kept him in the lead alone. Instead, the two walked to the ninth tee at 8- under, and no one else within three shots of them.

When i t was all over, when Garcia had finally done what it seemed like he might never do, when he had blown the chance to win on the last hole and then won anyway, he was almost strangely at peace with it.

He said that once he was into the playoff, he was ready to accept his fate either way. “I’m obviously thrilled,” he said, “but I don’t feel any different.”

It was “stupid,” he said, to try to fight the things he couldn’t control. Fate happens, Garcia said.

And sometimes, it even works out. Tortured souls, take note.

 ?? ANDREW REDINGTON / GETTY IMAGES ?? Last year’s Masters champion Danny Willett, left, of England helps Sergio Garcia of Spain with the green jacket after Garcia beat Justin Rose of England in a playoff to win his first major title.
ANDREW REDINGTON / GETTY IMAGES Last year’s Masters champion Danny Willett, left, of England helps Sergio Garcia of Spain with the green jacket after Garcia beat Justin Rose of England in a playoff to win his first major title.
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