No doubt, Sergio Garcia was on the brink.
The star-crossed Spaniard had bogeyed two of his previous three holes, watching a three-shot lead on Masters Sunday dissolve into a two-shot deficit. And now his ball was under a magnolia bush left of the 13th fairway.
Misplay this, and Justin Rose cruises to the green jacket.
Call it a Seve moment. And perhaps it’s fitting — on what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, a Spaniard would win the Masters from an impossible position.
OK, it wasn’t an act of derring-do like Ballesteros’ wedge from that temporary parking lot at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that helped capture an Open Championship in 1979. In fact, Garcia took the wise play — declaring it unplayable and taking a penalty drop. But he still had to salvage par, lest the gap grow too large.
A par not only kept him two back, it swung the momentum. It took a playoff, but Garcia finally has the major title everyone expected out of him, say, 12 years ago.
“It’s been such a long time coming,” Garcia said in Butler Cabin, still anxiously clutching his hands as he awaited the most coveted piece of haberdashery in sports to be draped around his shoulders.
“Today I felt the calmest I’ve ever felt on a major Sunday. Even after making a couple of bogeys, I was still very positive. I still believed there were a lot of holes I could get to. I hit a lot of good shots coming in, and I’m so happy.”
No major champion has endured as long a wait before breaking through. Not to say others haven’t piled up more starts, but they’re still waiting.
Garcia triumphed in his 74th major start, going back to his teenage days when he nearly won the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. This was his 19th start at Augusta National — four more than Mark O’Meara when he broke through in 1998.
“If there was anyone to lose to, it was Sergio,” said Rose, a close friend going back to their early careers. “He deserves it. He’s had his share of heartbreak.”
There was Medinah, when Tiger Woods won the first of his “Tiger Slam” of four straight majors. They also dueled again at the 2006 Open Championship, when Woods shot 67 on the final day and Garcia faded to 73. It didn’t help that Garcia was dressed in all yellow, which prompted Woods to tell friends that he’d “just bludgeoned Tweety Bird.”
The toughest came a year later, when Garcia blew a three-shot lead at Carnoustie and lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington. Garcia still had a chance to win on the final hole of regulation, but still no one can explain how that putt spun out of the hole.
And, of course, there was that love-hate relationship with Augusta National.
“When I came here in 1999 as an amateur, I felt like this course was probably going to give me at least one major,” Garcia acknowledged.
“I’m not going to lie, that thought kind of changed through the years. I started feeling uncomfortable with the course. But I’ve come to peace with it the last three or four years.”
That was evident alongside the 13th fairway. After bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11, the old Sergio would have railed at the gods for that wayward drive. Instead, he simply weighed his options and took care of business.
Then came a short birdie at No. 14. And he came oh-so-close to double eagle at the par-5 15th — the ball hitting a few inches short of the cup and kissing off the flagstick. Garcia drained the 12-foot eagle, and it was game on.
Garcia had a chance to win with a birdie at No. 18, but it wobbled off to the right. But when Rose found tree trouble in the playoff, Garcia didn’t even need the cushion — his 12-foot birdie try swirled into the cup.
It’s hard to say where Garcia’s exultation ranks in Masters lore. Arnold Palmer knew how to celebrate, tossing his cap in the air as he fairly danced in joy. Ben Crenshaw dropped his putter and wept in 1995, days after burying his mentor Harvey Penick.
Phil Mickelson had his epic leap — just kidding — when his winning putt veered into the hole in 2004. Better yet were Mickelson’s words as he picked up one of his daughters: “Daddy won! Can you believe it!”
No question, though, there was a lot of pent-up frustration to be released. Even after embracing Rose and his caddie, he extended his hands out to the side and exulted again, not exactly sure where to go from there. Blowing a couple of kisses to the patrons seemed like a good idea.
“It’s so amazing,” Garcia said.
Seve certainly would be proud.