Speculation swirled before Sunday’s final round at Augusta National. Who would make a charge at co-leaders Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose? Quickly their closest pursuers faded and golf fans were treated to one of the finest heavyweight showdowns in golf history.
It started with a couple of early jabs from Garcia, who birdied two of the first three. After a Rose bogey on the fifth, his lead was three. But Rose punched back with birdies at 6, 7 and 8 to even the score and pull ahead after Sergio bogeyed the 10th and the 11th. A wayward drive on 13 forced Garcia to take an unplayable, while Rose had just a mid-iron into the green. It looked as though it would be another sad tale of Sergio failing to get it done on Sunday. Garcia wouldn’t let go of the rope, getting up and down for a spectacular par while Rose missed a short birdie putt, leaving the lead at two and giving Garcia hope.
A Garcia birdie at 14 narrowed the deficit to one and on the par-5 15th, the Spaniard nearly holed his second shot for an albatross, instead settling for an eagle and evening the score at 9-under par after a Rose birdie. On 16, each stuck their approaches inside of 10 feet with Rose sinking his birdie first and Garcia flashing the balky putter that has cost him so many tournaments. With a one-shot lead, Rose faltered on 17, failing to get his bunker shot up and down and the pair headed to 18 all square at 9 under. Each found the fairway and hit their approach shots inside of 15 feet with Garcia inside 6. Rose’s putt burned the edge giving Garcia a putt to win his first major, but a misread gave fans extra golf.
Playing the 18th again, Rose blinked first, finding tree trouble off the tee. Sergio wouldn’t waste the golden opportunity, sticking his approach. After Rose narrowly missed his par putt, Garcia ended his heartbreak by sinking his birdie putt and claiming his first major title. Full scores.
The most refreshing part of Sergio’s win was that there were several moments that brought back memories of his past major championship failures. But every time he responded with a clutch shot or putt to keep himself in it. It took one of the greatest ball-strikers in the history of the game 73 major championships to get the monkey off his back. He had a few rock-bottom moments but Garcia’s hard work and perseverance finally paid off on a Sunday. El Nino burst onto the scene as a teenager in the late 90’s and the question was not “if” he would win a major championship, but how many. But after years of heartbreak Sergio seemed doomed to wear the “best player without a major” crown indefinitely. At age 37, with plenty of good years ahead of him and his transcendent tee-to-green game still intact, that number could end up being three or four.
The first loser… again
It was a brilliant tournament from Justin Rose. After a shaky start the Englishman hit stellar shot after stellar shot en route to his second runner-up finish at Augusta in the past three years. With his recent major championship record, it’s not a stretch to say he is one of the three best major championship players in the world.
Much was expected of the Rickie Fowler-Jordan Spieth pairing, which teed off just before Garcia and Rose but both failed to get out of neutral. As was the case most of the week, Fowler struggled from tee to green but on Sunday his putter couldn’t bail him out enough to keep up with the surging leaders.
For Spieth, things started off bad with a bogey at the first and never got better. His low point came at the 12th, where he again rinsed one. The pair finished at one-under for the tournament in a disappointing tie for 11th place.
Quite the debut
Young Belgian star Thomas Pieters made a run at Garcia and Rose on Sundaygetting to within two shots of the lead after birdies on 12 through 15 but he couldn’t cap off the comeback and settled for a T4 finish. It was Pieters’ second impressive debut in the last six months after being the best player on either team at the Ryder Cup and showing the capability of dominating Augusta National.
The king of the backdoors
Another week, another backdoor top 10 for Matt Kuchar, who never once threatened for the Green Jacket but walks away with a T4 finish. Kuchar was hanging around even par until he got hot on the back nine, shooting a 31 which featured an ace on the 16th. It marks Kuchar’s third top five finish at Augusta and Sergio’s win moves Kuch near the top of greatest players without a major championship debate.
It was quite the week for amateur Stewart Hagestad, who earned low amateur honors and became the first U.S. Mid Amateur champ to make the cut at the Masters. Hagestad was rock solid, shooting rounds of 73-74-73-74 and not making a double bogey or worse. At age 25, this might be the first of many appearances from the future Walker Cupper.