Spaniard gets his break
AUGUSTA, Ga. — He couldn’t catch a break. Sergio Garcia said that so often at majors like the Masters you were sure it would be etched into his tombstone someday.
He always had an alibi ready. Bunkers that weren’t raked until after he played out of them. Putts that curled around the hole only to spin away. Tee times that put him on the course in the teeth of a storm while rivals like Tiger Woods always drew blue skies and sunshine.
Garcia seemed so certain that fate had it in for him that like Pigpen from the cartoon strip “Peanuts,” he didn’t dare look up. There was always going to be a cloud of dirt and dust following him around.
On a picture-perfect Sunday, on what would have been the 60th birthday of his countryman and idol, Seve Ballesteros, the 37-year-old Spaniard made a birdie putt on the first hole of a playoff to beat Justin Rose.
“Obviously this is something I wanted to do for a long time but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie,” Garcia said afterward. “It felt like a little bit of a drama maybe, but obviously with a happy ending.”
The final putt rolled only 12 feet, but it felt like 12,000. It took seconds, but it felt like years. He and Rose have been butting heads since they were 14, but the distance between them grew as wide as a gulf when the Englishman notched his first major in 2013 at the U.S. Open.
“Any time one of those guys gets that huge monkey off their back,” Rose said graciously, “I think it makes it a poignant major championship. …
“It’s always a nice to be a part of history,” he added a moment later. “I would have liked to be the right part of it, but nevertheless I hope it’s a good one.”
Any talk about Garcia’s history before this Masters would have been a tale filled with anguish. He was a bona fide star at 16, a prodigy whose promise went unfulfilled, first by the emerging dominance of Woods and later by forces only he seemed to see.
The one thing everyone else focused on were his sad-sack results in golf’s big events until that last putt rattled at the bottom of the cup: 0 for 70 in his pro career.
Barely five years ago, after Augusta National got the better of him yet again, Garcia stormed off and said he’d had enough. “I will try to be second or third,” he said.
He was the only player in the field to break par all four days. He started the back nine a combined 31-over par in 18 previous appearances and played it 1 under the one time it mattered most. The centerpiece was a scrambling par at No. 13 that required the kind of grit even he must have doubted he had.
Up until then, the long-running duel between Garcia and Rose seemed bound to end badly for the Spaniard. Rose already owned a two-shot cushion and Garcia’s drive off the par-5 tee hooked left and into an azalea bush along the left side of the fairway. He took an unplayable lie and punched out only to see Rose knock his second shot just behind the green.
Garcia’s fourth shot, a wedge, left him with a 6-footer for par; Rose’s third, a chip, stopped at 7 feet for birdie. Garcia made his, Rose missed and what could have been the deciding blow turned out to be a draw.
“You know, the par on 13 obviously was big. … In the past, I would have, I would have started going, you know, at my caddie, and oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever,” Garcia said, laughing.
That line was funny because in the past, not everybody laughed along.
What changed this year is that Garcia caught some breaks and finally had the maturity to acknowledge that’s how it’s been all along — the good AND the bad. Most memorably, perhaps, was the 4-iron that landed on the bank on that same hole a day earlier. Instead of trickling into the creek, it stayed stuck in place as though the grass was Velcro.
He parlayed that unexpected good bit of fortune into a 70 Saturday that put him alongside Rose in the final pairing. When Garcia stood at the same hole in the final round staring at trouble on the bank above the creek, he decided to fight back instead of folding up.
He carried that attitude all the way to the 18th and when he missed a 5-footer that would’ve given him a win in regulation, he simply redoubled his effort.
“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. So it did cross my mind.
“But lately, you know, I’ve been getting some good help and I’ve been thinking a little bit, a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And kind of accepting, too, that if it for whatever reason it didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster.
“But,” he said finally, a wide smile stuck in place, “it’s happened.”