Sometimes golf can bring out the drama of competition in a way that no other sport can. Fans around the world were treated to an absolute classic down the Back 9 of Augusta National as Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia dueled it out in the late afternoon.
As it should be, it was the final pairing battling down the stretch. Rose and Garcia reached this stage of the final in different ways. Both were certainly consistent over the entire weekend, but their consistency took different forms. For Garcia, the entire weekend was clean golf. He went -6 over the first three rounds, with no round better than -3, and only hitting five bogeys (compared to 11 birdies).
Rose, on the other hand, had a much slower first two rounds. He went -1 after the first two rounds, then exploded for -5 on Saturday. Rose also was much more erratic than Garcia, earning his -6 first three rounds with nine bogeys and 15 birdies.
As the second-to-final pairing of Jordan Spieth (started Sunday at -4) and Rickie Fowler (started at -5) faded down the stretch, the tournament was going to come down to Rose and Garcia.
The Spaniard hit back-to-back bogies on the 10th and 11th, and it seemed to all the world like Rose was going to easily capture his first green jacket. Major titles–and certainly the Masters–never come easy, though. Garcia, known for fading down the stretch of the biggest tournaments throughout his career, finally came through and kept himself alive. After two consecutive pars, Garcia birdied the 14th hole. He followed that up with an eagle on the Par 5 15th (an eagle that was inches from landing in the cup on the fly), which meant that we were tied with three holes to go after Rose made birdie on the same hole.
Rose took his lead back on the following hole after Garcia missed a birdie putt by inches, but gave it right back with a bogey on 17.
We were at the 18th hole with the two players dead even. Each player hit a solid tee shot, followed by a tremendous second shot, leaving Garcia inches closer to a birdie on the final hole. Rose’s birdie putt went wide by centimeters, and Sergio Garcia had a walk-off putt for birdie on the 72nd hole of the Masters. Garcia’s nerves showed once more, though, and his ball also went just barely wide. As each made their short tap-ins, we were headed to a sudden-death playoff for one of these two players to win their first Masters championship.
In a Masters playoff, players alternate between the 18th and 10th holes (starting with 18) until one player has a lead. That player would be the Masters champion. One mistake by either player is probably all it would take.
Rose made his first mistake off the tee. His ball tailed down the left side of the green and into pine needles. Garcia’s tee shot also strayed left, but it stayed just on the fairway. It was the second shot that decided the tournament. Rose couldn’t really punch it out of the needles well, and Garcia put his second ball on the green and a decent putt away for birdie and the win. After Rose two-putted, Garcia had two putts to get the ball ten feet and claim the title. He only needed one, capping off his playoff win with a birdie.
The sportsmanship and respect that these two players showed each on the final few holes cannot be understated. There were pats on the back and high fives, as the two competitors for golf’s highest honor showed an incredible camaraderie that deserves nothing but the highest of respect. For Rose, this is his second runner-up in the last three years, coming in a tie for second behind Spieth’s record-shattering 2015 run.
For Garcia, this is a redemption for a career that many have always seen as disappointing. Garcia was once thought of as the main challenger to Tiger Woods. That never panned out, and he never really challenged for a Major when it was expected of him. He has gone through a small resurgence the past few years, though, and it culminated today in a Masters championship. No one knows how much further he can go, but one thing is for sure: no one can ever call a player that has donned a green jacket a disappointment again.