COMMENT: Masters win is just the start for Garcia

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Garcia celebrates in New York.

Ever since Sergio Garcia hit that magical closed-eye, around-the-tree shot at the 1999 PGA Championship, there was never any doubt that he was a supreme striker of the golf ball.

And yet, it took him nearly 18 years and 74 tries to win a much-deserved first major.

All the global outpouring of love that followed his play-off win over Justin Rose at the Masters on Sunday wasn’t because of sympathy for all the heartbreak he has had over the years. It was because of the awe the Spaniard generates when his game is on song – and during the four days at Augusta National, he really was hitting the high notes with aplomb.

Take away the two missed birdie putts on the 16th and 18th holes, and it was a ridiculous exhibition of shot-making from Garcia after the pulled drive on the 13th hole on Sunday.

Under the gun and having fallen two shots behind Rose, Garcia produced one spectacular shot after another, none more phenomenal than his flushed 8-iron second shot to the par-5 15th, which not only clattered the flag, but also climbed halfway up the pin before leaving him with the 14-footer that he made for a crucial eagle.

If he was sensational on the closing stretch, Garcia was solid throughout the 72 holes. He was second in the field in greens in regulation (55/72), one behind Paul Casey’s 56, and also second in fairways hit (45/56), one less than Soren Kjeldsen. He was also sixth in driving distance with an average of 291.5 yards.

However, my favourite stat of his domination last week was the fact that on the first hole, which gave so many headaches to the field and played the toughest –averaging 4.46 strokes – Garcia was two-under par for the four rounds. Those were two of only nine birdies made there the whole tournament.

What an awesome new jacket the members of Augusta National GC gave me, don't you think?😍 #MastersChampion2017

A post shared by Sergio Garcia (@thesergiogarcia) on

And yet, this kind of golf is expected from someone as hugely talented as Garcia. So, what has changed for him? Clearly, from the beginning of this year, he is armed with a new attitude. It was very visible here in Dubai when he won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and it was on show again at Augusta National.

Both the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club and Augusta have not been kind to Garcia in the past. At Majlis, he did not have a single top-10 in his seven previous appearances before he blew the field away this year with a 19-under par aggregate. And, at Augusta, his weekend total from 1999 onwards was 47-over par (he had the worst third-round scoring average of 74.9 in Masters history since 1990). The weekend this year netted him five under par.

They say behind every successful man is a successful woman, and that might be just true in Garcia’s case. His announcement at the beginning of the year that he is going to get married to his fiancee Angela Akins has definitely played a part in the transformation. She has somehow sorted out his priorities, and the fact that Garcia doesn’t believe that golf should be the beall and end-all of his life, has helped him on the golf course.

One also got the feeling that the Garcia of past would raise his hands after a succession of bad holes. Not the new version of him.

That was clearly visible at the Masters on Sunday when he dropped shots on the 10th and 11th, and was in grave danger of dropping at least another on the 13th, and yet fought back with renewed vigour to claim the green jacket.

It was also amazing to see the support he got from the patrons.

And the outpouring of love on social media would make you believe the whole world was rooting for him.

There is only one reason for that – Garcia may have been emotional and have gotten himself into controversies, but he remains a good man at heart.

Garcia will now never again have to answer any major questions.

And, having finally shed the tag of being the best golfer in the world never to have won a major, he can now focus on turning what is a great career into a legendary one.

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IN PICS: The five best golfers without a major

Sport360 staff 10/04/2017

With Sergio Garcia taking his name off the list following his Masters victory, following are the five best players in the world currently without majors…

Hideki Matsuyama

In Matsuyama’s defence, he is only 25 years old. But the world No4 has five top-10s in 19 major starts and considered by many as a favourite to become the first-ever Japanese major champion soon.

Rickie Fowler

Fowler’s now up to No9 in the world rankings and the only thing missing from his CV is a major win to elevate his status further in the game. The 28-year-old American now has six top-10s in 29 major starts.

Paul Casey

Another good finish by the resurgent Englishman, but everyone associated with the sport would agree he should have won a major by now. The 39-year-old now has nine top-10s in 42 majors.

Matt Kuchar

The American aced the 16th on Sunday for a tied fourth place, but he is yet to ace a major in what has been a distinguished career. The world No17 has now played 45 majors and recorded eight top-10s.

Lee Westwood

Really, the best player in the world right now without a major. The 43-year-old former world No1 has now gone 76 major starts without success, even though he has a staggering 18 top-10s in them.

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Garcia takes major title at last with Masters win

Sport360 staff 10/04/2017

Spain’s Sergio Garcia captured his first major golf title on Sunday after 73 failed attempts, making a birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat Justin Rose and win the 81st Masters.

Garcia took his emotional, long-sought triumph over England’s Rose, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion and 2013 US Open winner, after they finished deadlocked on nine-under par 279 for 72 holes at Augusta National.

The 37-year-old Spaniard took the greatest triumph of his career, and a $1.98 million top prize from an $11 million payout, on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, two-time Masters champion and three-time British Open winner Seve Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.

“It’s amazing,” Garcia said. “To do it on his 60th birthday, it’s something amazing.”

Last-group playing partners and friends Garcia and Rose were level for the lead at the start of what become a tension-packed thrill ride of a final round.

Garcia led by three strokes after five holes, fell two behind after 11, then roared back to force the playoff and sank a 15-foot birdie putt to claim victory.

“Even after making a couple of bogeys I was very positive. I still believed,” Garcia said. “There were a lot of holes I could get to and I stayed positive.”

Rose’s playoff tee shot soared deep into trees right of the fairway but bounced out onto pine straw while Garcia found the fairway.

Rose could only punch out onto the fairway and scrambled to make a bogey while Garcia put his approach 15 feet from the hole and, needing only two putts to win, rolled in a birdie around the edge of the cup.

On the 72nd regulation hole, Rose missed an eight-foot birdie putt, leaving Garcia a five-footer to win, but he pushed it wide right.

Not since Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994 had a Masters champion eagled on the back nine in the final round.

Rose birdied to match Garcia, then birdied the par-3 16th only to bogey and remain deadlocked to set up the closing drama.

South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters winner, was third on 282 with American Matt Kuchar and Belgian Thomas Pieters sharing fourth on 283.

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