Amid the Georgia pines, the lengthening shadows and the almost unbearable tension, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia staged a duel for the ages at the Masters on Sunday.
When it was finally over, on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff, Garcia had earned the first major championship of his career and “60 Minutes” had been delayed by close to 60 minutes. That’s how long it took for Garcia to get his green jacket, with a sparkling victory that occurred just before sunset. But that was no time at all compared to those 73 previous majors he had never been able to win over the span of nearly two decades.
“Sergio! Sergio!” the fans roared around the 18th green after Garcia sank the winning putt. Garcia yelled in delight, then dropped to his knees while shaking both fists. Then he hugged Rose, kissed his fiancée and screamed a few more times, his joy and relief intermingling in the twilight.
“It’s been an amazing week,” Garcia said. “And I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”
With no one else within three shots of them by the end, the Masters turned into a match-play event. Rose was the one who finally blinked the second time the two of them played No. 18, in the one-hole playoff.
Garcia celebrated a victory that will let him shuck the annoying albatross of “Best Player to Never Win a Major.” He was helped considerably when Rose sliced his drive in the playoff at No. 18 to the right, where it banged into a tree and dropped into the pine needles. Garcia put his in the fairway.
Rose never could recover from that errant drive and made a bogey, and Garcia rolled in a 12-foot birdie putt that lazily curled all around the cup before dropping to put a loud exclamation point on an unforgettable day.
Garcia won his first major on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late, great Seve Ballesteros – a golf idol of his and the first Spaniard to ever win the Masters (three months after Garcia was born, in 1980).
Garcia made a great par save on No. 13 despite taking a penalty stroke, and eagled No. 15 from 15 feet to get back into the match after it seemed for awhile Rose was going to get several shots of separation. Rose and Garcia began the round tied, and each led by at least two shots at one time during the final round.
Born less than seven months apart, Garcia, 37, and Rose, 36, have been two of the best players of their generation for a long time. The Spaniard and the Englishman have been Ryder Cup teammates and good buddies for years, having played tournament golf together from age 14 onward.
Rose has already won a major, the 2013 U.S. Open. Garcia, in the meantime, had famously and petulantly said in 2012 at the Masters after a bad round of his chances to win a major: “I’m not good enough, and now I know it.”
But Garcia seems in a different place emotionally now. Calmer. Less likely to let a bad shot get to him. Better perspective.
“I have a beautiful life, major or no major,” he said.
Said Rose: “I think we’ve always known that Sergio is kind of an ‘emotional on and off the golf course’ kind of guy. And when it’s all clicking, he’s one of the best in the world.”
The first time around on No. 18, on the last hole of regulation, each player smacked a great drive. Each had hit 276 shots in this Masters at that point, and they were still close enough you couldn’t slide a piece of paper between them.
Then Rose hit an 8-iron on his second shot that took a massive kick to the left, rolling to within 8 feet of the hole. Garcia nailed his wedge even closer, which elicited a thumbs-up from Rose. They walked to the 18th fairway, each knowing that a single putt could end it.
Rose would putt first, and his 8-footer burned the right edge of the cup but did not fall as he gasped into his own hand.
Garcia only needed to make his, from 6 feet, to break his 0-for-forever drought in majors. And instead, the Spaniard rolled his to the right, too, as the fans in the gallery put their hands to their heads in disbelief. It was the third potential birdie putt Garcia had missed in the last three holes of regulation.
But that only set the stage for Garcia to win it, on the same hole, about 10 minutes later in front of fans who had been wrung dry by the emotional ups and downs.
“Hopefully they remember it fondly,” said Rose, who was a consummate sportsman throughout. “It’s always nice to be a part of history. I would have liked to be the right part of it.”
Everyone else had fallen away long before Rose and Garcia.
Jordan Spieth never could get it going and ballooned to a 75, leaving Matt Kuchar (who had a hole-in-one on No. 16 and tied for fourth) as the only American in the top six. Rickie Fowler had a 76 as no American seriously contended Sunday.
South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel finished third, but he was three shots behind Rose and Garcia. It was a two-horse race and they ran it for well over four hours.
“It was a great battle,” Garcia said. “Justin played awesome, and I played, nicely too. … I’m very proud that I was able to do it.”