“A tradition unlike any other.” The Masters, thanks in large part to commentator Jim Nantz, have coined this phrase. Out of the four major golf championships, The Masters is the most coveted. Maybe it is because of its green jacket that you don when you win. It is the only major championship played in the same location each year. It is the only major where a 57 year old, Fred Couples, has a chance to be in contention on Sunday. It is the only major where the favorite to win is never the favorite to win. Only at Augusta National Golf Club. This year was true to form.
Arnold Palmer passed away this past September and you could tell there was a void. He, along with Jack Nickalus and Gary Player, would hit the ceremonial tee shots to begin the tournament. This year, they walked his wife out and let her have a front row seat as Nickalus and Player hit their tee shots. There was a moment of silence and one of his green jackets was draped across a chair in his remembrance. It was a fitting opening to one of the greatest sporting events. Surprisingly, the world’s number one golfer, Dustin Johnson, slipped and hurt his back the day before the tournament began. He practiced his swing but you could tell he just did not have the follow thru needed to compete. He walked toward the first tee box for his scheduled tee time, but made a left turn for the clubhouse. He had to withdraw. This meant that it was anybody’s tournament to win. Jordan Spieth could win it. He had a five shot lead with seven holes to play before he blew up on hole 12 last year. Rickie Fowler could win it. He came in hot and was visibly present during Palmer’s tribute. Bubba Watson could win it. He has won two times and both times, he was not favored to win. Justin Rose could win it. He won the U.S. Open and was second two years ago at The Masters. Rory McIlroy could win it. He only needed to win this year to complete the career grand slam (winning all four golf major championships). Adam Scott could win it. He had previous course knowledge, was cool and collected enough to win in 2013. Phil Mickelson could win it. The winner in 2004, 2006, and 2010 was looking for his fourth green jacket. Anyone of these players or some unknown could have won. Not too many people had Sergio Garcia in their sights.
Sergio in 2007 was leading all three days of the Open Championship (British Open). He had a four shot lead over the next player before he went on a bogey spree. He missed an eight-foot putt on the last hole to win. He lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. In 2008 at the PGA Championship, Sergio misjudged hole 16 and put his second shot in the water. This allowed Harrington to win another major. In 2014 at the Open Championship, he bogeyed hole 15 and lost by two strokes to Rory McIlroy. Sergio would have the lead or be close to the lead, and just blow it in other tournaments. He had 30 professional wins but no major championship. He now possessed the label of, “great player never to have won a major.” That is not a good look.
Enter Sergio into The Masters 2017. He started Thursday with a decent and respectable one under par. The leader was Charley Hoffman at seven under par. No one believed he would keep that pace, especially with the winds blowing up to 20 MPH on Friday. Sure enough, he did not, which allowed Fowler to ascend to the top of the leaderboard. One again, Sergio was right in the thick of things tied with the leaders at four under. At the end of day three, Sergio and Rose would both be six under and in the final pairing on Sunday. Sergio could not have asked for a better start to his final round. He birdied holes one and three, giving him a two-shot lead. Rose bogeyed hole five giving Sergio a three-shot lead. At this point, it seemed like all Sergio had to do was play even par and he easily wins his first major. That’s when Rose showed why he was a major champion. He birdied the next three holes and they were both tied going to the back nine. Sergio bogeys holes ten and eleven. DOH! This is the Sergio many have grown accustom to. You could hear it, “he blew it again”. On the 13th hole, Sergio somehow made a par from behind a tree, while Rose missed an easy birdie putt. On the 15th hole Sergio found his “mojo” with an eagle. It is all tied again. On the par 3 16th hole, Rose makes his birdie putt while Sergio misses his. Here comes the, “not again Sergio”. Rose misses another putt, this time that would have saved par. Sergio makes his putt for par, tying the match with one hole to play. Rose’s putter fails him on hole 18, as he settles for a par. All Sergio has to do is make a five foot putt for birdie and win his first major. He missed it! Both players were tied at nine under heading to the first hole of the playoff. Rose hits his drive into the woods and missed his par putt to save himself. Sergio hit a great drive and his second shot landed eight feet from the hole. He would have two putts to win, but only needed one.
Sergio said, “Justin wasn’t making it easy. He was playing extremely well. But I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believe that I could do it. It’s been an amazing week, and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.” Finally Sergio, Finally!