Good things apparently do come to those who wait because no one’s waited around longer and longer and longer and longer than Sergio Garcia. He was a master at waiting.
After 73 chances in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship — some of them near-misses, many of them full heartbreak — the 37-year-old Spaniard’s drought is over.
Garcia is, at long last, a major champion.
The precocious teenager we first saw skipping through the fairway of the PGA Championships at Medinah in 1999 isn’t so young anymore. He doesn’t flash his anger as much. He doesn’t whine or make excuses and said he’s learned to accept things in his life better. Good things. And bad things.
The good came on one extra hole, and Sergio didn’t mind waiting. What’s one more hole? After 18 previous trips to Augusta National, another hole is small potatoes.
After Garcia and Justin Rose battled to a stalemate through 72 holes with each missing very makeable putts on No. 18, they returned to the 18th tee box to renew their battle.
Rose’s tee shot sailed right, only to bounce back toward the fairway but still in the pine straw. Garcia calmly ripped his tee shot down the fairway, and Rose punched out, almost to where Garcia stood, awaiting his second shot. Then Garcia plunked his iron shot onto the green, maybe 12 very l-o-n-g feet away from victory.
When his birdie putt curled into the cup, the fans rose to their feet with a thunderous roar as Garcia bent down with two clenched fists. Teary-eyed, he let out a full-throated scream and blew a kiss to the gallery.
Overcome by emotion, Garcia hugged his caddie, shook hands with Rose, then knelt down and pounded the green in exultation. His fiancée, Angela Akins, bear-hugged him in an embrace, and they kissed.
“You are the greatest,” Marty Akins, his future father-in-law, told Sergio just off the green. “See? See?”
He saw. We all saw. For all the names that Garcia has been called over his entire career, he now can finally be called champion.
El Niño is El Nada no more.
Sergio Garcia is in the club.
He joined on what would have been the 60th birthday of his boyhood hero, the late Seve Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 and was one of now three Spaniards with green jackets. Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal both had two of them, and the latter sent Garcia an inspiring text Wednesday on the eve of the tournament, urging him to remain calm.
And calm he was. Despite another missed opportunity on 18, where both golfers missed short putts to end rounds of 69, and despite trailing by two shots after 11 holes, Garcia kept his composure and got down with his 15th birdie of the weekend on the first playoff hole to close out with a 9-under-par 279.
“He deserved it as much as anyone,” Rose said. “He’s had his share of heartbreak.”
His frustration would end on this day as he collected himself after blowing a three-stroke lead on the front nine Sunday. His card showed rounds of 71-69-70-69 as he had just six bogeys after a bogey-free Thursday.
“I felt a calmness I’ve never felt,” he said. “I hit some really good shots coming in. I’m so happy.”
Rose already had a major championship in his bag, having claimed the 2013 U.S. Open when he took down Phil Mickelson and others at Bethpage. He added a gold medal to his résumé last August as well, winning the first golf competition staged in the Olympic Games since 1904.
Garcia doesn’t skip much anymore. He might have lost an inch or two on his vertical leap.
But he nailed his approach shot on the par-5 15th hole — it almost went in the cup — and coolly sank a 25-foot eagle putt with the ball creeping toward the hole until it disappeared. He threw a clenched fist after what might have been the best two shots of his pro career.
After his dramatic shot, Rose tapped Garcia on the shoulder. These two have been Ryder Cup teammates and buddies for decades.
The scene nearly repeated at No. 16, where Rose and Garcia hit almost identical tee shots that came to rest almost equidistant from the hole. As they approached the green, Garcia offered a flat palm, and Rose slapped it obligingly.
Rose then curved in a winding, 10-foot putt for his second consecutive birdie. Garcia’s putt didn’t have enough muscle on it, curling up a foot short to put him a stroke behind. The drama was only building.
Of course, this has been one of the more unorthodox of the 81 Masters tournaments.
Arnold Palmer wasn’t present for the first time since the 1950s after having died last September, and his green jacket was draped over an empty chair before Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the honorary tee shots to start the tournament.
Before he could even strike a golf shot, Dustin Johnson, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, had to withdraw with a bruised back and elbow after he slipped on some steps in his socks as he raced down the stairs.
And blustery winds that gusted up to 40 mph on Thursday played havoc with the golfers’ scores.
Jordan Spieth, who had gone 2-1-2 in three Masters trips, concluded his weekend with bookend 75s and tied for 11th at 1 under par, 10 shots off the pace, exactly as he ended Day One. And he found water in both those rounds, dousing his approach shot on the par-5 15th hole and scoring a quadruple-bogey 9 on Thursday and finding Rae’s Creek again on No. 12 with his errant tee shot on Sunday.
“I was proud of the way we finished with three birdies in the last four holes,” Spieth said. “After shooting 75 on the first day, it would have been easy to throw in the towel, but we didn’t. We really didn’t lose belief until the iron shot on 12. A lot of positives coming out of this week. Fortunately, I get to come back for the next 50 years.”
So can Garcia now if he wants. His fiancée said he’d been remarkably calm Sunday morning and said on the third fairway, “You’d have to have no pulse if you weren’t excited.”
Garcia’s future in-laws, Marty and Pam Akins, were in his gallery as they were at the Byron Nelson, which he won, and the U.S. Open, where he finished in a tie for fifth. “I think we must be bringing him good luck,” Marty said.
Others joined, too. Among them were legendary Portuguese soccer star Luis Figo, who played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, and One Direction singer Niall Horan. Sergio’s cook? Oh, yeah, world-renowned Spanish chef José Andrés was cooking up Sergio’s favorite dishes this week. Who didn’t want to see some history made?
Garcia? He couldn’t have been more composed. The ultimate sports fan, he’d spent most of Sunday morning watching a replay of a Formula One race in China. “He loves Formula One racing,” Angela said.
It’s all about getting to the finish line. Sooner or much, much later.