Happell: Garcia's Demons Vanquished

It took him 74 major championship appearances but Sergio Garcia is finally a major champion.
OK, hands up. Which of you wise guys out there thought Sergio Garcia had blown it? As his drive clattered into the trees on Augusta’s 13th and ended up under a bush, who rolled their eyes, shook their heads and figured he’d found yet another way to lose a major? 

I certainly did. Sitting back in my armchair, I thought Sergio had squibbed it.

As the final round progressed, it was difficult to shake the feeling this great unfulfilled talent was going to succumb – again – to the final-day pressure of a major championship, as he did at the 2007 Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he took a three-shot lead into the final day, the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills and many of the other 20 occasions he’d finished top-10 in a major.

The situation was eerily familiar: this time it was Englishman Justin Rose – aptly dressed in black – who was adopting the unsmiling bad-guy role occupied at other times by Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. 

Rose coolly rattled off three consecutive birdies at holes 6, 7 and 8 – the latter coming after he holed a longer, trickier putt than Garcia – to draw level with the Spaniard. And when Garcia bogeyed Nos. 10 and 11, suddenly he trailed Rose by two and began to look a little helpless – as if forces way beyond his control were conspiring again to rob him of his moment of glory.

His brain addled, Garcia stood on the 13th tee and aimed way left, allowing for his power fade, as if he was trying to bomb one over the corner of the dogleg. It was a ridiculously high-risk strategy and one that so nearly cost him the tournament.

Of course, the ball clipped a branch, fell straight down and, as the cameras soon showed, landed in an unplayable lie under a bush.

But this is where Garcia found the inner strength to toss away the script, stare down the naysayers and critics, and regroup.

He took a penalty drop, punched his third down the fairway, hit a very sound wedge approach to within seven feet and, wonder of wonders, holed the par putt. When Rose, at the back of the green in two, could only make par, Garcia must have felt not just intense relief but a sense that maybe he could still claw his way back into this contest.

Brilliant shots at the 14th and par-five 15th, which hit the flagstick and set up a breathtaking eagle, gave him back the momentum he’d lost. Now he strode the fairways with renewed purpose and intent; this was going to be the day he’d stare down fate, and not blink.   

The play over the closing holes by both Rose and Garcia produced the highest drama and yet, just when we thought that the Spaniard was ready to claim the title on the 72nd green, his tiddler birdie putt of about six feet dribbled past the hole.

Again, the doubts persisted. Surely after blowing a gilt-edged chance like that, Garcia would not be able to exhibit the fortitude needed to prevail in such a gripping head-to-head contest. 

But if he wasn’t able to snare the birdie the first time he played the 18th, he certainly made no mistake the second time around, trickling a three-metre putt into the cup which sparked wild and unrestrained celebrations.

Until today, the Spaniard was the only player among the top 10 in career earnings who had not won one of the Big Four. And, at the age of 37, time was running out: a permanent place in the Best Players to Never Win a Major list seemed assured. 

On the back of today’s effort, we can say there should be no further questions about his mental fortitude. 

In his 74th start at a major championship, over a period that has spanned 18 years, or 6,570 days, since he turned pro, Sergio Garcia, child prodigy, finally fulfilled his destiny.



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