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Chastened Garcia can learn from a rare stumble by the Golden Bear

By Brian Keogh

Golf on the razor's edge makes for great TV but there was a little menace in Sergio Garcia's reaction to his Masters-wrecking octuple-bogey 13 at Augusta National's 15th on Thursday.

When Golf Channel's Rich Lerner joked on Twitter that "Sergio won't be naming his next kid Firethorn" in honour of the treacherous 15th that ruined the Spaniard's title defence, Garcia was quick to remind him that he'd eagled the hole last year.

"What happened on 15 @TheMasters yesterday was unfortunate for me and it hurt but I tried to handle it like a Masters Champion should," Garcia wrote. "That same hole gave me that green jacket last year so we might end up naming our next kid Firethorn after all, funny man!"

One doubts that Garcia thinks Lerner is a "funny man" at all but what is clear is that the 15th remains one of Augusta's great risk-reward holes, and possession of the Green Jacket is no guarantee of immunity to disaster there.

The 530-yard par-five is little more than a drive and a mid to short iron for the game's big hitters as Garcia showed when he hit the pin with an eight-iron from 189 yards last year and made a crucial three.

It's the hole that produced 'the shot heard round the world' in 1935 when Gene Sarazen, trailing by three strokes in the final round, holed a four-wood from 235 yards for an albatross two before going on to beat Craig Wood in a 36-hole play-off the following day.

But it's also been a watery grave for many, including 'Jumbo' Ozaki (1987), Ben Crenshaw ('97) and Ignacio Garrido ('98) who all made record high 11s on the hole before Garcia 'surpassed' them.

Pádraig Harrington dropped five shots on the hole in 2007 and only finished four behind winner Zach Johnson.

"It is one of the most intimidating shots in golf, " Harrington said of the second shot to the 15th. "In fact, it is the hardest shot at Augusta."

He added that the third, played from a downslope, is no joke either and Garcia proved him correct on both counts.

He put five balls in the water - the first a six-iron from 206 yards, before spinning four more sand wedges back into the pond- to record what was arguably the biggest 'disaster' to befall a defending champion since Jack Nicklaus missed the cut alongside Sutton's Joe Carr in 1967.

The defending champion had missed the cut on 10 occasions before this week - Nicklaus was the first, when he shot 151 to Carr's 150. In fact, the Golden Bear admitted on Thursday morning that it was a blow that ruined his year, even though he did win four times afterwards, including the US Open.

"I had to learn that there were other tournaments in the country after Augusta," Nicklaus said.

"I played Augusta a lot of times and lost. I won in '63, '65 and '66, and I just expected to win every year.

"I thought I would just continue to do that - I had a couple years in there, '67 I missed the cut, that was a humbling experience after you've won it twice in a row.

"It probably destroyed the rest of my year - I was so disappointed at not winning at Augusta, that I had a downer most of the year.

"I didn't play particularly well in 1967... I won a lot of golf tournaments, but I didn't play well during that year.

"I put such a build-up to this tournament and the importance of winning that first Major that it was to my detriment more times than positive."

Garcia might have won on Seve Ballesteros' birthday last year, but he now has something else in common with the Santander genius.

While Ballesteros is the only defending champion to miss the cut twice - '81 and '84 - his comment on his four-putt from 15 feet on the 16th green in the '88 Masters is part of Augusta lore.

"I miss, I miss, I miss, I make," he said when asked to describe that disaster.

Now Garcia has a soundbite all his own.

"I don't know, it's the first time in my career where I make a 13 without missing a shot," Garcia said.

"Simple as that. I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately, the ball just didn't want to stop."

Given Nicklaus' memories of a post-Augusta blues, Garcia will certainly be hoping for glad tidings to come, if not the pitter-patter of more tiny feet should young 'Firethorn Garcia' come along.

Belfast Telegraph

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