Sergio Garcia is the 2017 Masters champion. After 18 years as a professional, 30 previous career wins, and a whole lot of expectation, El Niño has finally delivered on the promise of his undoubted talent.
“It has been such a long time coming,” Garcia told BBC Sport, as if to state a point obvious to any observer.
Garcia has won his first Green Jacket and his first golf major at the 74th attempt. Dispelling the ghosts of previous playoff losses, he held his nerve on the 73rd hole of this year’s event to record a tournament-winning birdie as his opponent, England’s Justin Rose, could only achieve a bogey.
Let’s look back on this victory and Sergio Garcia’s career-to-date.
Sergio Garcia’s Promising Early Career
Sergio Garcia turned professional in 1999 after a highly successful amateur career. He was the youngest player to win the European Amateur Championship as a 15-year-old, before winning the Boys Amateur Championship and his first professional tournament two years later. Garcia then won the Amateur Championship in 1998, getting him a ticket to Augusta for the first time.
After shooting the lowest amateur score in the 1999 Masters tournament, Sergio Garcia turned professional, winning the first of 31 career tournaments in his sixth start. In the year’s last major, he first rose to the genuine attention of the golf world as he dueled with Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship.
The first of Garcia’s many almost-wins, the 1999 PGA Championship, announced the exciting, young El Niño as a potential challenger to Tiger Woods, who had taken the golf world by storm since his record-breaking 1997 Masters victory. The tournament included a famous shot and bounding run Garcia made during the tournament, that was arguably its most memorable moment.
Yet Garcia’s challenge to Woods’s supremacy never fully materialised. Woods has gone on to win 14 major tournaments, while Garcia had won none before this weekend.
Sergio Garcia: A Major Career Absence
Thirty career wins, millions of dollars in earnings, and five Ryder Cup wins would be a fine career for almost any professional golfer. But, like Colin Montgomerie and other highly successful golfers before him, for Sergio Garcia’s career to lack a major win no doubt ranked as a major disappointment.
In the 74 consecutive major tournaments Garcia has played in, he has achieved 22 top-10 finishes. Among these are four second place finishes, which included the four-hole playoff defeat to Padraig Harrington in the 2007 Open Championship.
In that tournament, as in the PGA Championship in 2008, Harrington came from behind as Garcia went backwards over the final stretch of both tournaments. This was in contrast to the Open Championship in 2014, his last almost-win in a major, when Garcia began the last round trailing eventual winner Rory McIlroy by seven strokes but finished only two shots behind.
In this year’s Masters, Sergio Garcia was tied or trailed England’s Justin Rose throughout their final round. Tied at nine-under-par after 72 holes, Rose and Garcia returned to the 18th tee for their sudden death playoff. Garcia would have hoped for a repeat of his 2008 Players Championship victory, unofficially regarded as the fifth major, where he won a sudden-death playoff against Paul Goydos.
On Sunday, Rose blinked first, sending his tee shot wide to the right. It took him three shots to find the green and two putts later he had scored a bogey-five. Garcia, who had a putt on the 72nd hole to win the Masters outright, but left it short, found the green in two shots and had two putts to win the Masters. This time, he only needed one.
How Sergio Garcia Won the Masters
One of the more revealing qualities that Sergio Garcia displayed in winning 2017’s first major was his calmness. After so many near-misses, final-round capitulations, and playoff defeats, Garcia held his nerve when it mattered most at Augusta.
He reflected on this after his victory, saying that he “felt the calmest I ever have in a major.”
This mimicked the mature attitude he displayed after Saturday’s third round when he had guaranteed his place in the final pairing for Sunday. Speaking to Daily News, Garcia spoke philosophically about how to play the course.
“If you try to fight this place, it can beat you down. You just try to calm yourself down, take some nice, deep breaths. In the end, if you do your best, that’s all you can do.”
Garcia made no mistake with his second attempt at holing a putt to win the Masters. He calmly stroked the ball in the cup with a shot to spare before shaking his opponent’s hand. Shortly afterwards, last year’s Masters champion, Danny Willett, lifted Garcia’s first Green jacket onto the Spaniard’s shoulders.
Perhaps now, finally having a major to his name, Garcia will feel a weight lifted from those shoulders that have carried such expectation since he began breaking records at the age of 15.
A golfer of inconsistent form, strange habits, and no lack of controversy during an 18-year career, has finally found his major feet. Sergio Garcia recorded his 31st and, arguably, most important win on the 18th-green of Augusta National on Sunday, April 9.
[Featured Image by Harry How/Getty Images]