Sergio secures first ever victory in 81st annual golfing tournament over Justin Rose
The 81st Masters Tournament, hosted this past week at Augusta National Golf Club, produced the suspense and drama that golf enthusiasts have anticipated from the annual championship.
The tournament was overshadowed by the palpable absence of four time Masters champion Arnold Palmer, who traditionally participated in the ceremonial opening tee shot. Conducting the inaugural ceremony in his absence were golf legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, whose personal histories with both the Masters Tournament and Palmer made Thursday’s ceremony even more nostalgic.
Commemorating Mr. Palmer with a somber crowd at the first tee, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne noted that “Despite all of his fame and fortune, he always had time for all of us. A smile, an autograph, a photo – he was always giving. But it still hurts so bad that he is not here with us today.”
Before striking the honorary first tee shot, six time Masters Champion Nicklaus raised his hat to the sky in commemoration of golf’s “King.” In remembrance of Palmer, patrons around the golf course could be observed donning buttons that declared: “I am a member of Arnie’s Army.”
Another notable development prior to tournament play was the unexpected injury of Dustin Johnson, who currently tops the World Golf Rankings and was a favorite to capture the championship. Johnson—whose recent triumphs include three consecutive PGA Tour victories, including a stunning win at last summer’s US Open at the Oakmont Country Club reportedly slipped while travelling down a flight of stairs on Wednesday evening. Despite administering an aggressive anti-inflammatory regimen prior to Thursday’s round, Johnson withdrew from the tournament before striking a single tee shot. Citing a lower back injury, Johnson stated that “I can’t make my normal swing and I didn’t think there was any chance I could compete.”
The championship’s first two rounds on Thursday and Friday were characterized by sluggish performances from top players in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Entering the tournament with the unique opportunity to complete a career grand slam, Rory McIlroy finished the second round tied for 12th at +1 relative to par. Jordan Spieth, who finished T 2 in last year’s tournament after a surprising final round collapse, entered the weekend tied for tenth.
Jason Day never joined contention, falling to a disappointing T 35. Nonetheless, the Friday’s leader boards featured prominent names. Tied for 1st at 4 were Sergio Garcia, Rickie Fowler, Thomas Pieters and Charley Hoffman. Other notables included Justin Rose at 2, Fred Couples at 1, along with Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson at even par.
Despite the lackluster performances by top ranked players on Thursday and Friday, the spectators at Augusta National were positioned for a thrilling final round by Saturday evening. Posting a sparkling 67 on a wind swept course, 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose entered Sunday’s round tied for the lead at 6. Sergio Garcia, the adversity hardened Spaniard who has suffered twelve top 5 finishes in major championships without a victory, joined Rose at 6.
Beneath them, Fowler who at 27 years of age remains one of golf’s most talented players without a major title to his name posted a respectable 71 to reach 5. Spieth, despite incurring a shocking quadruple bogey on the par 5 fifteenth during Friday’s round, shot an admirable 68 and entered Sunday at 4. With many captivating narratives, the final round promised a dramatic conclusion to the 81st Masters Tournament.
Conditions on Sunday morning were pristine, featuring blue skies, comfortable temperatures and an opportunity for low scores. Spieth and Fowler, who entered Sunday with high expectations after impeccable Saturday performances, plummeted down the leader board after shooting 75 and 76 in the final round, respectively. Illustrative of his Sunday performance, Spieth struck an iron shot into Rae’s Creek on the daunting par 3 12th, eerily mirroring his collapse on the same hole in last year’s tournament. By late afternoon, the roars around Augusta had centralized upon the final grouping of Garcia and Justin Rose.
Entering the back nine as co leaders at 8, Garcia quickly bogeyed the first two holes of Augusta’s treacherous Amen Corner, opening a two shot deficit. As a veteran, however, Garcia quickly regrouped. Draining a clutch fifteen foot putt on the thirteenth hole after incurring a penalty stroke, Garcia celebrated with an energetic fist pump. From there, the fiery Spaniard’s rally only intensified.
On the par 5 fifteenth, Garcia struck a magnificent iron shot from the fairway, dropping so close to an albatross that his ball ricocheted off the flag stick. After appraising the fifteen foot eagle opportunity, Garcia drained the putt and fist pumped again. Rose sank a short birdie, joining his playing partner at 9. Demonstrating steely resolve, both Rose and Garcia knocked their iron shots on the par 3 sixteenth inside ten feet of the flag stick.
Only Rose would convert the opportunity, generating a one stroke deficit with two drama filled holes to play. On the par 4 seventeenth, Justin Rose evaluated a short par putt to preserve a one stroke lead. Rose missed the putt, triggering a resounding gasp from the gallery. With only one hole remaining, The Masters was tied.
After exceptional approach shots, both Rose and Garcia were left appraising reasonable birdie opportunities on the final hole. After Rose missed from fifteen feet, Sergio Garcia was left with a knee knocking five foot putt to accomplish a goal that had evaded him for nearly two decades: a major championship victory.
Erasing heartbreaks at the 1999 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick, the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills from his mind, Garcia struck his putt. As Sergio Garcia’s ball rolled painfully past the hole, the patrons on Augusta National’s 18th hole gasped. The 81st Masters Tournament would be decided in a playoff.
After fading his tee shot behind a magnolia tree, Rose was compelled to lay up and therefore incurred a bogey on the playoff hole.
Garcia, after delivering a picturesque drive down the center of 18th’s fairway and a towering iron shot to fifteen feet, had another opportunity to end nearly twenty years of major championship heartache. Garcia would not falter a second time.
As the putt captured the hole’s right edge and rolled in, Garcia collapsed to his knees in a double fist pump and roared beneath the gallery’s thunderous applause. On the 60th birthday of his late idol, the legendary Seve Ballesteros, Garcia finally captured his first major championship at the 81st Masters Tournament.
Donning his new green jacket in Butler Cabin, Garcia declared that “I felt today the calmest I’ve ever felt on a major Sunday…I’m so happy.”