AUGUSTA, Ga. – There they went – the ghosts and the demons and the goblins, all exorcised during a victory celebration he never anticipated at a course he never could have imagined.
Sergio Garcia crouched, shook his fists and unleashed a primal scream – “YESSSSS!!!” – that’s been bottled up for 19 years.
The only line missing from his otherwise stellar résumé was a major title, and now it’s his, all his, after a wild Sunday at the 81st Masters that perfectly embodied his schizophrenic career.
And then finally, after curling in his 12-foot birdie putt, Garcia was one ahead when it mattered most, defeating Justin Rose on the first playoff hole in an instant classic at Augusta National.
“Nobody deserved it more than you do,” Rose told Garcia on the 18th green. “Enjoy it.”
Often criticized in his early days for making excuses, for folding at the first sign of trouble, Garcia proved to be historically resilient. His breakthrough victory came in his 74th career major start, the most by any player in history.
Garcia proved to be just as irrepressible in the final round.
Two strokes behind on the 13th hole, he saved par from the trees, added another birdie at No. 14 to cut into the deficit, and then hit one of the most brilliant shots of his career on the par-5 15th – a high-soaring 8-iron from 189 yards that kissed the flagstick and led to an eagle.
His career has been filled with near misses, with crushing disappointments, but it was Garcia, not the U.S. Open champion Rose, who played the most sublime golf down the stretch to capture the long-awaited major title.
“Obviously this is something I wanted to do for a long time, but it never felt like a horror movie,” Garcia said. “It felt a little bit like a drama, maybe. But obviously with a happy ending.”
Before heading off property, Rose stumbled into Garcia, now donning the green jacket, at the front of the clubhouse.
“Look at this man!” Rose gushed. Then he enveloped his friend in another hug.
The Spaniard’s feel-good victory was a fitting end to a surreal Masters week, which began with no Arnie, no Tiger, no Par 3 Contest and, in the most bizarre twist of all, no world No. 1. Throughout his mostly star-crossed career, Dustin Johnson has found unimaginable ways to lose a major – including now, before it even starts. While in his Augusta rental house Wednesday he slipped on a staircase, injured his lower back, and after 24 hours of treatment couldn’t answer the bell. “It sucks really bad,” he said.
What he missed was the most brutal opening round in a decade, when players walked with their chins buried in their chest and patrons chased after their windblown hats and pairing sheets. The 40-mph gusts muted Augusta’s raucous soundtrack, and just nine players were under par after two days.
Four-time Tour winner Charley Hoffman shot a remarkable opening 65 and held the halfway lead, but the majesty of Augusta is that, eventually, the stars rise to the top of the board. By the end of a sun-splashed Saturday, Hoffman was supplanted by the likes of Garcia and Rose, with Rickie Fowler one shot behind.
Another stroke back, improbably, was Jordan Spieth, who had entered the Masters as the subject of unrelenting scrutiny after last year’s historic collapse. At first he’d politely allowed the psychoanalysis, a product of his respectful Texan upbringing, but by the time tournament week rolled around he clearly wanted to move on. And everyone did, initially, after he safely navigated the 12th in his first visit since the watery debacle. Then Spieth took another quadruple bogey, this time on the par-5 15th, and ended the opening round 10 shots behind, a major deficit that hadn’t been overcome in 119 years.
Showcasing his trademark grit, Spieth shot rounds of 69-68 and entered the final round two shots behind, in the penultimate group. It was the first time in four Masters that Spieth wasn’t in the final pairing Sunday, and yet he seemed to delight in being the go-for-broke pursuer. “Finishing fifth versus 10th doesn’t mean much to me,” he said, “so that frees me up a bit.” Perhaps too much. He went out in 38, rinsed another tee shot on 12 and dropped out of the top 10.
Spieth and Garcia couldn’t have had more wildly different experiences at this place. Ever since he arrived here as a 19-year-old, Spieth and Augusta have gone together as well as egg salad and lemonade, or sundresses and the sixth hole. Garcia, meanwhile, has had a particularly tortured relationship with the old nursery. It was here eight years ago that he dismissed the home of the Masters as unfair and “too much of a guessing game.” And it was here five years ago, after enduring nothing but major heartbreak, that he conceded, “I’m not good enough … I don’t have the thing I need to have.”
Never mind that he was a 30-time winner around the world, a Ryder Cup hero.
“Because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about, Am I ever going to win one?” he said Sunday night. “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, I’ve been getting some good help, and I’ve been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And accepting too, that if for whatever reason it didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster.”
Now 37 and three months from getting married, Garcia was downright buoyant between the pines. He playfully chatted with his fellow playing competitors and showed no signs of the historic major burden, his 12 major top-5s the most by any winless player in the past 75 years.
“It’s the same Sergio that people have known and loved,” said his fiancée, Angela Akins. “But he’s just been working really hard on his game off the golf course. He’s been focused on his mental game. He’s done an incredible job.”
The golf gods seemed to reward Garcia’s newfound perspective and upbeat attitude, whether it was his hooked tee shot ricocheting off a tree and bouncing back into the fairway in the second round, or his approach into 13 somehow hanging on the bank above Rae’s Creek on Saturday. Those fortuitous breaks allowed Garcia to take his first share of the 54-hole major lead in a decade – on what would have been the 60th birthday of one of his heroes, Seve Ballesteros.
Earlier in the week, two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal wrote Garcia a note of encouragement – just as Ballesteros had done before Ollie’s 1994 Masters victory.
“I’m not sharing my locker at the moment,” Olazabal wrote to Garcia, “and I hope that I get to do it with you.”
“I really believe that he has all the tools to win around here, or any major,” Olazabal said Sunday morning. “He’s been so close a couple of times.”
Just not on this course. Not until Sunday.
Leaving the fifth green, Garcia was 2 under for the day and staked to a three-shot lead. That advantage disappeared quickly, as Rose poured in three consecutive birdies before the turn.
They headed to the back nine tied at 8 under par, but Garcia made back-to-back bogeys on 10 and 11 to fall off the pace. When he overcooked his tee shot into the trees on 13, and needed to take an unplayable lie from the azaleas, he seemed destined for an all-too-familiar ending.
“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, ‘Oh, why doesn’t it go through?’ or whatever,” he said. “But I was like, well, if that’s what’s 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.”
Garcia made that unlikely par, then birdied the 14th after stiffing his approach shot to 5 feet. On 15, after nuking a 344-yard drive, he nearly flew his approach into the cup, leaving him a 14-foot putt that he dropped over the front lip to share the lead.
In the playoff, Rose found trouble off the tee, pitched out and made bogey. Needing only two putts for the win, Garcia coolly poured in the winning putt.
No longer is he the best player without a major. No longer is he the player who came so close, so often.
“We couldn’t ask for anything more than winning the Masters,” said Garcia’s father, Victor. “It’s the best thing ever!”
When the final putt dropped, when the major weight was lifted, Garcia looked in disbelief at his caddie, Glen Murray, and then held him tight. He blew kisses to the crowd. The patrons chanted his name.
About 100 yards away, in the packed clubhouse grill, a shrill voice rang out.
“Happy birthday, Seve!”
Victor Garcia was sobbing.
Source: Golf Channel
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Rules controversy yet again in a major. Poor Lexi Thompson. Change is needed..
RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Cristie Kerr watched it all end with disgust.
Standing behind the 18th green Sunday as this gut-wrenching day came to such an unmerciful ending, Kerr couldn’t hide her outrage.
“This is wrong,” said Kerr, the 18-time LPGA winner. “Where’s the common sense? Where’s the discretion? Where’s the honor? This kind of stuff has to end. It makes us look bad. It makes the game of golf look bad.”
Kerr nailed Sunday’s unsatisfying ending to the ANA Inspiration in a nutshell.
The setting around the 18th green at Mission Hills is as close as there is to a temple of women’s golf, with the walk of champions leading players past the Dinah Shore statue and over a bridge to Poppie’s Pond. Kerr hated how the spirit of the game could seem so cruel and wicked in this special place.
Kerr hated that Lexi Thompson had to lose the way she did, with the Rules of Golf and yet another controversially timed video replay spoiling the nature of the finish.
That’s not to say Kerr hated So Yeon Ryu winning. She likes Ryu, and she felt bad for her, too.
Kerr was moved at how fans around the 18th began chanting “Lexi,” how they rallied for her so empathetically, but she didn’t like how some fans seemed to root for Ryu’s last approach shot to get in the water during their playoff.
“I really like So Yeon,” Kerr said. “She doesn’t deserve this.”
Ryu is one of the most popular players on tour, a gentle spirit and respected competitor whose kinships cross all the many borders in the women’s game.
But Ryu’s win won’t be celebrated the way it should be, not with the way Thompson was so harshly hit with a pair of two-stroke penalties as she left the 12th green in the final round.
Thompson was giving a tour-de-force performance Sunday, a virtuoso effort that seemed destined to be the defining high mark of her still young career.
The 22-year-old American star never looked better with her combination of power and newfound putting touch reminding us of Dustin Johnson’s magnificent finish at Oakmont last summer.
We just didn’t think the comparisons would also go to another distasteful rules controversy.
While Thompson couldn’t overcome the hard blow and win the way Johnson did, she was just as magnificent in her fight. She had so much more to overcome than Johnson, four shots instead of the single shot Johnson faced. The blow was so much more dizzying, with Thompson being told coming off the 12th green that she was being penalized two shots for incorrectly marking her ball at the 17thgreen a day earlier, for placing her ball back down directly in front of her mark, instead of where she originally marked it, slightly to right side of the mark. And that she was getting two more penalty shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.
Thompson went from two shots ahead to two shots behind in what had to feel like a kick in the gut.
She wept going to the 13th tee but somehow marvelously went on to birdie the hole, and birdie the 15th to briefly take back the lead.
In the end, with a brilliant 5-iron to 18 feet to set up a closing eagle that would win her the championship, Thompson looked as if she was going to script the greatest ending in golf history.
This looked like it would end as a celebration of Thompson’s great poise, that it would be remembered as a testament to her resilience, but her eagle putt stopped short.
And Ryu then went on to beat her with a birdie in the playoff.
Kerr shook her head seeing Thompson lose.
“Lexi’s the most honest player out here,” Kerr said. “She goes to all the pro-am parties, goes to so many junior clinics, signs so many autographs. She does all the right things.’
Anna Nordqvist was also at the back of the 18th green watching Sunday’s finish unfold, Nobody there could empathize with Thompson more.
Nordqvist lost the U.S. Women’s Open last summer after a video replay showed she grazed a few grains of sand with her 5-iron as she pulled it back in a fairway bunker on the second playoff hole. She was assessed a two-stroke penalty as she played the final playoff hole. It sealed her fate as Brittany Lang went on to win.
While Nordqvist was encouraged with the USGA & R&A’s recent release of a proposed sweeping makeover of the Rules of Golf, she was disappointed by a glaring absence in their work. She wanted video review to be addressed.
“This rule is the major one that needs to be changed now,” Nordqvist said.
Nordqvist said she doesn’t have a problem so much with rule violations being discovered by video review. She has a problem with the timing of penalties, how they can be assessed so long after they occur and how that timing changes the integrity of competition.
“It was disappointing to see another bad timing here,” Nordqvist said.
The LPGA will get hammered for this, but the rules officials applied the rules the way they should have been.
That’s because the Rules of Golf allow for no discretion, mercy or even common sense in the way video review is used.
Sue Witters, the LPGA’s vice president of rules and competition, had the unfortunate duty to inform Thompson of her violation.
A viewer watching Saturday’s telecast alerted the LPGA to the possible violation with an email sent to LPGA.com’s Fan Feedback. Witters’ rule staff received it on Sunday with Thompson playing the ninth hole in the final round.
It took the LPGA time to find and review the Golf Channel footage. Witters said the video clearly showed that Thompson put her ball back in the “wrong spot,” maybe an inch from where she should have placed it.
“I didn’t realize I did that,” Thompson said. “I didn’t mean that.”
Witters acknowledged the human component in delivering the news.
“It’s a hard thing to do, and it made me sick, to be honest,” Witter said.
Witters was asked what discretion she had. She said there isn’t any when a rules official clearly sees the violation.
“What’s my choice?” she said. “If it comes out there was a violation in the rules, then it would be the opposite story: `Oh, they knew. Why didn’t they do anything about it?’ I can’t go to bed tonight knowing that I let a rule slide?”
The villain here is the Rules of Golf.
It’s video review and no good guidelines in how it should be used or tamed or restricted.
Video replay has simmered for so long now as a source of the most wicked adjudications of the game’s rules. Nordqvist is right. It’s complicated, but video review ought to shoot to the top of the USGA and the R&A’s priorities in remaking of its rules.
Source: Golf Channel