The spirit of Seve played a part in Spain’s first major win of the 21st century. Had he not won, onlookers were left to wonder how precisely García would ever recover. At last this was the 37-year-old’s time; even Rose, in calm reflection, will recognise that. “García, García,” chanted the Augusta patrons as he holed out for a three on play-off hole No1. The man himself kneeled on the hallowed turf, partly in disbelief at finally reaching this Holy Grail.
A tearful García was never going to be allowed to end his drought the easy way. This could only have been his earlier fate; 5ft to win the Masters. As the putt slid by, reviving memories of the wounding moments which had denied the Spaniard so many times, the die was surely cast. Everyone had been in this movie before, hadn’t they? In entering the play-off García had such a wave of Augusta National support but horrendously damaging scar tissue. Garcia was to have the last laugh with a fresh, uplifting storyline.
That García and Rose tied on nine under at the close of regulation play after trading 69s was but a statistic. The 81st Masters provided one of this grand old lady’s most iconic climaxes.
It is such a shame that duel in the sun already has context in golf. On a glorious Georgia afternoon Rose and García engaged in epic battle. It ebbed and flowed, it was similar in so many ways to
the Open Championship finale involving Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson last year. It was rendered even more endearing by the fact the two golfers in question are such close friends, an alliance they did not hide when displaying sportsmanship of the highest order.
This very quickly became a two-horse race. García held a three-stroke advantage after the 5th. Rose hauled him back to the position of parity at the turn. Nobody else could gatecrash the party.
The widespread assertion was García would eventually buckle under pressure. He has previous, after all. García in fact stabilised himself from ugly dropped shots at the 10th and 11th to post a birdie at the 14th and conjure up one of the shots of the tournament a hole later. As he holed out for a three García punched the air; he finally believed. Neither he nor Rose could pull clear again from the 16th tee onwards.
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion, ended up best of the rest at six under after a terrific fourth-round 68. He will probably not take offence at this being lost in the mêlée. Thomas Pieters is worth great credit on this, his Masters debut, after earning a share of fourth with Matt Kuchar on minus five. The star of Pieters continues to rise, which is a wonderful boost for European golf. This young Belgian has it all.
The biggest shock of day four was Jordan Spieth’s failure to place meaningful pressure on Rose or García. The Texan, who had finished no worse than second here, could fare no better than a bogey at the opening hole in what proved an ominous sign of things to come.
Spieth, who began Sunday two from the lead, reached the turn in 38 before being afforded a wounding glance back to 2016. On the 12th, Spieth’s now recurring nemesis, he played his tee shot into Rae’s Creek. Three birdies in the closing four holes mattered little to this fierce competitor; 75 and tie for 11th was his fate.
Kuchar had barely been mentioned during Masters week; a situation he remedied on Sunday with a hole in one at the 16th. It was the only ace of this tournament. Even more appealing was Kuchar’s immediate reaction as he signed the ball in question and handed it to a young member of the gallery. Kuchar had further cause for celebration, his closing 67 affording him that share of fourth with Pieters.
Rory McIlroy, who partnered Kuchar over the final 18 holes, must wait at least another year to complete a clean sweep of majors. The Northern Irishman signed off with a 69 to tie seventh.
“It wasn’t quite good enough,” said McIlroy. “I’m getting more comfortable here. I feel like every time I tee it up here I have a real good chance to win. Top 10s right now isn’t good enough but it’s going in the right direction.”
McIlroy’s thoughts will immediately turn towards his upcoming wedding; when he returns to the competitive fold at the Players Championship next month, he will be a married man. “It’s a great time in my life,” he added. “It would have been nice to walk down the aisle in the Green Jacket. I’ll come back refreshed and start a new chapter in my life.”
McIlroy was among those to publicly back Garcia as the play-off scene was set. The man from Castellon now enters exciting and new territory of his own. This is long overdue.