Wednesday 26 July 2017

Sergio Garcia pays tribute to Seve Ballesteros as he wins first major on what should have been his idol's 60th birthday

Sergio Garcia points to the sky as he holds the Masters trophy after winning at Augusta
Sergio Garcia points to the sky as he holds the Masters trophy after winning at Augusta

James Corrigan

No major-winner has ever had so many attempts before tasting the glory and no golfer has even been so honest in the moment of fulfilment. Sergio Garcia called himself “stupid” for railing against the gods for not allowing him to reach his Augusta destiny.

Garcia, 37, beat England’s Justin Rose on the first hole of a play-off. Yet the mere simplicity of that sentence does not begin to do the occasion, or the gripping duel, justice.

It would have been the birthday of Severiano Ballesteros, Garcia’s  countryman and mentor, and the two-time Augusta winner would have been so impressed with his persistence and application.

This was the 74th major in which Garcia competed, the most of anyone without a triumph. But as he pointed out in humour, all that “if only” wondering is finally at an end. “I guess I’m now the best player to only have won one major,” Garcia said.

But in the post-victory euphoria, after a one hostile US crowd had chanted "Sergio, Sergio", there was real and commendable candour. It was not that long ago when he declared he could not win at Augusta and neither did he much like it.

"How stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you really can't fight,” he said. “I needed to just accept things,” Garcia said reflecting on all those close calls which made him so bitter.

“When I first came here as an amateur in 1999, I felt like this course was probably going to give me at least one major.  But I'm not going to lie, that thought kind of changed through the years, because I started feeling uncomfortable here.

“But I kind of came to peace with it the last three or four years and I accepted what Augusta gives and takes.  And I think because of that I'm able to stand here today. But it never felt like a horror movie. A little bit of a drama maybe, but now with a happy ending"

When receiving the trophy, Garcia looked up to the heavens and thanked Ballesteros, who died six years ago. "Seve did come into my mind today,” he said. “I'm sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots and some of those putts." But there was also a nod to Jose Maria Olazabal, the other Spaniard to win the Masters.

“To do it on Seve’s 60th birthday and to join him and Olazabal, my two idols in golf my whole life, it's something amazing.  Jose sent me a text on Wednesday night telling me how much he believed in me and what I needed to do.  And just pretty much believe in myself and being calm and not letting things get to me that I've done in the past And he said I’m not sharing my champions’ locker with anyone but you.”

Garcia is getting married this year to his fiancée, Angela Akins, and he gave credit to her influence. “I’m happy in my life and that helps enormously,” he said.

Garcia also paid tribute to Rose and revealed that the Englishman told him when they hugged on the 18th green, “nobody deserved this more than you”.

Rose took the positives out of his second runners-up Masters placing in three years. "This is a tournament I am going to win one day," Rose said  "I've been in the last group a couple of times and shot 14-under when Jordan [Spieth] won. I feel really confident here, this my favourite tournament of the year. I still have a bunch of good years in me and feel this is one I can still knock off.

"Lots of good things happened today. It was a wonderful battle and if there is anyone you want to lose to it's Sergio. He deserves it, he's had his fair share of heartache."

 

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