There was a time not that long ago when Sergio Garcia told people he could accept and be proud of his legacy as a professional golfer without winning a major championship.
Garcia doesn’t have to worry about that any longer.
The 37-year-old Spaniard — his career on an upward track brought on by experience and proficiency in his game and calmness in his private life — birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to outlast England’s Justin Rose and capture the Masters on Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.
Garcia broke his 0-for-73 drought in major tournaments with the birdie putt on the 18th green.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” Garcia said. “I thought I had it on 18 (in regulation). I knew I was playing well. Today I felt a calmest I’ve ever felt on a major Sunday. Even after making a couple of bogeys I was still very positive and I knew there were still a lot of holes I could get to.
“I hit some really good shots coming in — I’m so happy.”
Both players missed birdie putts — Rose’s was from 10 feet while Garcia’s was from 5 feet — on the final hole in regulation to push the tournament into the playoff tied at 9-under-par 279.
The players returned to the 18th tee for the first playoff hole. Rose’s drive found the pine straw under a tree and he had to punch out, with his ball ending up just a few yards in front of Garcia’s tee shot. Garcia ripped his approach to 10 feet before Rose found the green on his third shot well outside the Spaniard’s ball, meaning he would have to putt first.
Rose missed and Garcia calmly rolled in a 12-foot putt for the win, breaking down in tears and pounding the green with his right fist as the crowd chanted his name.
Both players shot 3-under 69s on Sunday before heading into the playoff.
Garcia’s win came on what would have been the 60th birthday of his mentor, two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros, a swashbuckling Spaniard who died from brain cancer in 2011.
Garcia said he received a text from his other mentor, Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal (who won this event in 1994 and 1999) about how to handle himself this week.
“It’s amazing to do this on Seve’s birthday and to join him and Olazabal,” Garcia said. “Jose sent me a text Wednesday night telling me how much he believed in me and what I needed to do and to believe it myself and to remind me to be calm.”
Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open winner, took the lead when he birdied the par-3 16th via a 10-foot putt, after which Garcia missed a quick left-to-right breaker from half that distance. The duo was tied again when Garcia parred and Rose bogeyed the par-4 17th after hitting his approach shot into the bunker short of the green.
Charl Schwartzel of South Africa finished alone in third at 282 after a final-round 68, while Matt Kuchar (67) and Thomas Pieters (68) of Belgium tied for fourth at 283. Kuchar had a hole-in-one on the 16th hole.
England’s Paul Casey (68) ended up alone in sixth at 284, while Kevin Chappell (68) and Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (69) tied for seventh at 285.
There was never a charge from the pack — the 67s by Kuchar and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama were the low rounds — which allowed Rose and Garcia to focus on each other and the difficulty of the golf course.
“I’m disappointed, that’s pretty simple I suppose,” said Rose, the men’s gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “A lot of good things happened today and it was a wonderful battle with Sergio so don’t feel bad for me. If there’s anyone to lose to, it’s Sergio — he deserves it as much as anyone out here. He’s had his fair share of heartbreak.”
Rose and Garcia began the final round tied for the lead at 6 under, but the Spaniard quickly moved to a three-shot lead thanks to birdies on the par-4 first hole and the par-4 third and Rose’s bogey on the par-4 fifth.
Rose turned things around with three straight birdies from Nos. 6-8, and the two players hit the back nine tied at 8 under.
Garcia unraveled on the downhill par-4 10th, popping up his tee shot before slashing his long approach shot into the bushes long and right of the green on the way to a bogey. He dropped another shot on the par-4 11th when he drove his ball into the woods to the left of the fairway and couldn’t fashion a par. Rose walked off the 11th green with a two-shot lead.
“I really felt like I had it under control at the turn, I was playing really great golf,” Rose said. “I just needed one or two more putts to fall in. I played well and he made a great rally. This is a tournament I think I will win one day.”
Both players parred the par-3 12th and Garcia looked as if he was doomed when he hit his drive into the trees to the left of the fairway and Rae’s Creek on the par-5 13th. He was forced to take a drop and incur a penalty stroke but pitched onto the green with his fourth shot and made the putt for par.
Garcia got a stroke back with a brilliant birdie on the par-4 14th and poured in a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th when his approach landed a foot from the hole and clipped the flagstick. His ensuing putt just dropped into the hole on its final roll and Rose answered by holing out a four-foot birdie putt for a tie at 9 under to set up what would be a four-hole match, including the playoff, for the title.
“I hit good third and fourth shots and I needed to because I knew I could do what I did on 14 and 15,” Garcia said. “I knew I was playing well enough to make something happen and that putt turned things for me and got me even more confident.”
Garcia (71-69-70-69) and Rose (71-72-67-69) were the only golfers to play all four rounds this week at par or under.
“Both Justin and I were trying to win but at the end of the day we are both people and we have to represent the game and how we were raised,” Garcia said. “We are good friends and we are respectful to one another and cheering each other on. We wanted to beat each other, instead of one of us losing it.”
AUGUSTA NOTES: The third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win the Masters Tournament 43 times (out of 80), with Garcia joining recent winners Jordan Spieth (2015), Bubba Watson (2014) and Argentina’s Angel Cabrera (2009). … The eventual Masters champion has come out of the final Sunday pairing 21 out of the last 27 years, with Zach Johnson (2007), Charl Schwartzel of South Africa (2011), Bubba Watson (2012), Adam Scott of Australia (2013) and Danny Willett on England (2016) the exceptions. … The state of Texas boasts the most Masters champions with 13 wins: Jack Burke (1956), Charles Coody (1971), Ben Crenshaw (1984, 1995), Jimmy Demaret (1940, 1947 and 1950), Ralph Guldahl (1939), Ben Hogan (1951, 1953), Byron Nelson (1937 and 1942) and Spieth (2015).
Article first appeared on Jacksonville Sports Day.