Apr 10, 2017

Masters 2017: Sergio García Finally Wins First Major Title

In Europe, the man who popularized golf was the Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, who was Arnold Palmer with an accent. Like Palmer, Ballesteros was very, very good when he hit his drives straight and even better if they went crooked.

In 1980, three months after Sergio García was born, Ballesteros won the first of his two Masters titles. García grew up idolizing the swashbuckling Ballesteros, whose influence on García’s golf and his life was immense.

Nearly six years after Ballesteros died of brain cancer, on what would have been his 60th birthday, García conquered the field, Augusta National and his demons — not necessarily in that order — to win the Masters.

García weathered the challenge of his playing partner Justin Rose and potential calamity on the back nine to claim his long-awaited first major title.

After starting the round tied with Rose at six under par, Garcia built a three-shot lead early, lost it, fell behind Rose by two after 11 holes, missed a short putt at the 18th hole to win and then claimed the green jacket with a birdie on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Garcia and Rose finished 72 holes at nine-under-par 279.

This was García’s 74th start at a major. That it took him so long to win one would have been hard to conceive in 1999, when García burst onto the scene as a teenager with a runner-up finish to Tiger Woods at the P.G.A. Championship.

After his third straight below-par round Saturday, García said it had been hard, “but it was fun.” That was a marked departure for García, who five years earlier had walked off Augusta National’s 18th green after his third round and said he was not good enough to win a major because he lacked “the thing I need to have.”

From then to now, García gained a few more years of maturity, and a fiancée. In three months, he will be married to Angela Akins, who played golf at Texas Christian and met García when she was working at Golf Channel.

Akins’s sunny personality can lift García’s dark moods, and her father, Marty, a former N.F.L. quarterback, has been an optimistic voice to cut through García’s negative self-talk.

“Marty is a very, very positive — you know — outspoken and very, very confident kind of guy,” García said, “and it definitely helps when he’s encouraging you and things like that.”

García had to give himself a pep talk after Rose, on the strength of three consecutive birdies starting at the sixth, drew even. After they both made the turn in two-under 34, García gave up the lead with a bogey on the par-4 10th, where convention holds that the Masters officially begins.

García bogeyed No. 11 as well, falling two shots back, and then his tee shot on the 13th hole ended up under an azalea bush. But he managed to save par, and Rose just missed a birdie putt, keeping García in striking distance.

A birdie on the 14th got García one shot closer. At No. 15, he hit a stunning second shot to within 15 feet of the hole, then made his eagle putt. After a Rose birdie, the two were tied again, at nine under.

Rose birdied the 16th but gave back the lead with a bogey at the 17th so that the final group arrived at the 18th tee tied at nine under. Both men missed birdie putts, sending the tournament to a sudden-death playoff.

The playoff started at the 18th, where Rose’s tee shot landed in mulch off the fairway. He ended up with a bogey, giving García two putts from 10 feet to win the Masters. He needed only one.

Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion here, shot a final-round 68 to finish alone in third at six under.

Rickie Fowler, who was also seeking his first major title, started the day one shot back, but he could not make a move after an erratic round with seven bogeys and three birdies. A 76 left him at one under.

Jordan Spieth, who won in 2015 but squandered a big final-round lead on the back nine last year, was only two shots behind the leaders when play began on Sunday. But he did not wait for the back nine to falter this time. He bogeyed three of his first six holes and made the turn six shots out of the lead. And it only got worse. Two bogeys and a double bogey followed before Spieth birdied the three of his last four holes to finish at one under.

Matt Kuchar, a fan favorite at Augusta since his college days at Georgia Tech, did make a charge, including a hole in one at the 16th hole that left him five under. But playing several holes ahead of the leaders, Kuchar ran out of chances to get closer.

Joining Kuchar at five under was Thomas Pieters, a 25-year-old Belgian playing his first Masters.

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