Masters 2017: How Garcia consigned nearly man tag to history
“I thought I’d had it on 18,” said Sergio Garcia after his dramatic Masters play-off triumph over Justin Rose early yesterday at Augusta.
Now, though, he could smile about it. Many times before — every time, in fact — such a qualifier would have come sodden in disappointment. Garcia was golf’s great hope who became golf’s great nearly man.
But not this time, for the drought was over. A new label is now needed.
“Because of where my head was at, sometimes I did think about whether I am ever going to win one,” Garcia admitted, the indelible smile still etched on his face.
“I’ve had so many good chances and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me.”
This time it was he who beat out a rival at the death. Battling with Justin Rose after whistling a short putt past the hole on 18, it was all set up for the usual disappointment, the now familiar anguish and a return to the dark depths of the soul reserved for second place.
In 2012, Garcia had admitted he might never win a major after he disappeared from contention at Augusta.
That was more than 25 years after he’d first made his mark, becoming the youngest player to win the European Amateur in 1995. He was a tour professional by ’99 and, in the same year, won his first European Tour event. The teenage prodigy had only success in front of him, not just majors but, surely, a Grand Slam was not out of the question.
But in August of that year was the first hint we would see of Sergio the nearly man. A memorable cut-and-thrust final-round duel with Tiger Woods at the USPGA Championships where two of golf’s young saviours would do battle but Woods emerged victorious.
It was a first step on the runners-up podium for Sergio, a place that would become a familiar home for his last-gasp agony.
Then there was the 2002 US Open, when Tiger would again keep him at arm’s length, or the 2006 Open at Royal Liverpool, where Garcia and Woods played in the final group but the American held on again for victory. By the time he returned to major contention in 2014, Woods was gone. A new superstar, however, had emerged, and Rory McIlroy would win out as Sergio melted.
At Carnoustie in 2007 was the most agonising Sergio Garcia moment, with the Spaniard even having a putt for the title but lipping out on the final hole to end up in a play-off with Padraig Harrington. It was the memory that must have been coursing through his mind after that miss on the 18th in Augusta — “I thought I’d had it.”
This time, he would not be denied.
The golfer with the most major starts before a first win, eclipsing Tom Kite in 2016, was finally shedding his nearly man tag and that made it even more special.
“It’s been a long wait but it’s that much sweeter because of that wait,” Garcia said after being presented with his green jacket by 2016 champion Danny Willett.
“Lately I’ve been getting some good help and I’ve been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And kind of accepting, too, that if it for whatever reason it didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster.”
It would turn out that the positive outlook was all he needed to push him over the edge. A long, twisting tale of heart-breaking nearlies, frozen in time and consigned to history.