Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title

Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title. AUGUSTA, Ga. — The Arnold Palmer of Europe was Seve Ballesteros, who was very, very good when he hit his drives straight and even better when they went crooked. In 1980, three months after Sergio García was born, Ballesteros won the first of his two Masters titles.

Sergio García after making a birdie putt on the first extra hole Sunday to win the Masters, his first victory in 74 starts at a major. García and Justin Rose each finished regulation at nine under par. Credit Tannen Maury/European Pressphoto Agency

Like generations of American players who loved Palmer, García grew up wanting to be like the swashbuckling Ballesteros, whose influence on García’s golf and his life was immense. Nearly six years after Ballesteros died of brain cancer, on what would have been his 60th birthday, García conquered Justin Rose, Augusta National Golf Club and his demons — not necessarily in that order — to win the 81st Masters.

It was García’s first major title in his 74th start, and perhaps fittingly, he had to go an extra hole to secure it after missing a seven-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole that would have ended the tournament in regulation. When his ball steered clear of the hole, it might have conjured memories of the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, where García also had a putt for victory at the 72nd hole, missed it and then lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington.

But García’s mind was uncluttered as he and Rose signed for their closing three-under 69s to finish 72 holes at nine under, then headed to the 18th hole for the playoff.

Maybe it was because he had felt Ballesteros’s presence all week, but García, 37, said he felt serene.

Whatever happened, García told himself, he would drive out Magnolia Lane at the end of his 19th Masters appearance having improved upon his career-best fourth-place finish from 2004.

“I felt much calmer than I felt on any major championship Sunday,” García said.

Though García and Rose are longtime friends and Ryder Cup teammates, they could not approach golf courses more differently. Rose is the artist who studiously stays inside the lines; García is the one who follows lines that few others see.

But on the first hole of the playoff, García was the one whose drive found the fairway while Rose’s ball ricocheted off a tree and came to rest in the pine needles, in front of a pine cone. Rose’s pitch landed short of the green while García stuck his approach to 12 feet, eliciting a thumbs-up from Rose. He gallantly hung back to give García the stage to himself, allowing him to bask in applause that had been building for decades.

After Rose tapped in for bogey, the spotlight belonged to García, who rammed in his birdie attempt, and then squatted in relief — or maybe disbelief.

It was the first Masters since 1954 without Palmer, the golf’s first global ambassador, and there could have been no better tribute to his legacy than the partisan American crowd sweetly serenading a Spaniard as if he were its own.

That it took this long for García to join Ballesteros and another beloved countryman, José María Olazábal, as major champions would have been hard to conceive in 1999 when García burst onto the scene as a teenager with a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the P.G.A. Championship.

“Obviously, this is something I wanted to do for a long time,” García said, “but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending.”


Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title
Justin Rose reacted after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation on Sunday. He later lost in a playoff to Sergio García. Credit Mike Segar/Reuters

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