AUGUSTA (Georgia) • The long, painful wait is over. On what would have been the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros, at the conclusion of his 74th consecutive Major, Sergio Garcia won the Masters. He is now, finally, a Major champion.
Amid moving scenes on Sunday at Augusta National, which emphasised so many frustrations, a sudden-death victory over Justin Rose afforded Garcia the status he courted since childhood but had been so cruelly, so routinely, denied him in the past.
Sergio Garcia, a golf Major winner - it is a phrase many thought impossible. At last, this was the 37-year-old's time.
"Garcia, Garcia," chanted the Augusta patrons as he holed out for a birdie three on play-off hole No. 1. The man himself knelt on the hallowed turf, partly in disbelief at finally reaching this Holy Grail.
Garcia took his emotional, long-sought triumph over England's Rose, the 2016 Rio Olympics champion and 2013 US Open winner, after they finished deadlocked on nine-under 279 for 72 holes at Augusta National after firing 69s.
"Whew, it has been such a long time coming," the Spaniard said.
Tributes pour in
Congrats @TheSergioGarcia. Well earned.
TIGER WOODS, American golfer, 14-time Major champion and former world No. 1.
Pretty sweet way to finish @TheMasters .... congrats @TheSergioGarcia ... well deserved buddy!!!
MICHAEL PHELPS, American swimmer, the greatest Olympian of all time with 28 medals, including 23 golds.
2 unbelievable players and 2 great friends, but I couldn't be happier for @TheSergioGarcia. You deserve it all amigo!!
RORY McILROY, Northern Irish golfer, four-time Major champion and former world No. 1.
My most sincere congratulations to @TheSergioGarcia for that well deserved Green Jacket.
CAROLINA MARIN, Spanish badminton player, reigning Olympic champion and world No. 3.
How great is @TheSergioGarcia. Very exciting after so many years fighting so hard. Many congratulations! What a joy!
RAFAEL NADAL, Spanish tennis player, 14-time Grand Slam champion.
We have a great friendship and a good rivalry. It is good for him to have the monkey off his back and I am very pleased for him.
JUSTIN ROSE, English golfer and eventual runner-up.
"I felt a calmness I never felt on a Major Sunday."
Garcia took the greatest triumph of his career, and a US$1.98 million (S$2.8 million) top prize from an US$11 million payout, exactly 60 years to the day his idol, two-time Masters champion and three-time British Open winner Ballesteros was born. Ballesteros died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
Garcia said: "It's amazing. To do it on his 60th birthday, it's something amazing."
Ballesteros' s son Javier, who is also a golfer, tweeted: "Vamossssssssssssssssss!!!! Grande SERGIO!!!!!! #Campeon #Masters #Augusta @TheSergioGarcia."
Last-group playing partners and good friends Garcia and Rose were level for the lead at the start of what become a tension-packed ride of a final round.
On a glorious Georgia afternoon, Rose and Garcia engaged in an epic battle.
It ebbed and flowed, it was similar in so many ways to the Open Championship finale involving Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson last year.
Garcia led by three strokes after five holes, fell two behind after 11, then forced the play-off on hole 18.
Rose's play-off 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 that horseshoed around the cup before dropping.
Garcia squatted and shook with excitement, rose and screamed with joy and hugged Ryder Cup team-mate Rose before walking around the green to revel in the moment, pumping his fist and punching the green in delight.
"We were cheering each other," Garcia said. "We wanted to beat the other guy, not the other guy to lose."
He added he had lost hope of ever winning at Augusta, but "through the years I learnt to accept what Augusta gives and takes and that's why I'm here."
Rose said: "It was a great battle with Sergio all day. If I had to lose to anybody, it would be to Sergio. He deserves it as much as anyone out here. He has had his fair share of heartbreak.
"I played well. He made a great comeback."
On the 72nd regulation hole, he missed an eight-foot birdie putt, leaving Garcia a five-footer to win, but he pushed it wide right.
"I thought I had it on 18," the Spaniard said. "I hit it where I wanted."
Only three players - Jay Haas (87 attempts), Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie (75 apiece) - had more Major starts without a victory than Garcia before he donned golf's fabled Green Jacket.
"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."
It took 18 years to finally win a Major, an achievement which had seemed a certainty when he burst on to the scene in 1999, giving Tiger Woods a run for his money in the PGA Championship.
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champion, ended up as the best of the rest at 282 after a terrific fourth-round 68.
The star of Thomas Pieters continues to rise. The Belgian (68) earned a share of fourth place with Matt Kuchar (67) on 283.
The biggest shock of the day was Jordan Spieth's failure to place meaningful pressure on Rose or Garcia.
The Texan, who had finished no worse than second at the Masters, could fare no better than 75 and a tie for 11th with 287 was his fate.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE TIMES, LONDON