AUGUSTA – A week of Masters lore demanded a high-profile Sunday finish, in this case dueling Euros at several paces and extra golf. And only after Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy faded into pinestraw and fresh water.
“It’s been an amazing week,” Sergio Garcia said, “and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”
That celebratory scream heard in Aiken and unleashed from a 37-year-old in a squatting position after his Masters-winning putt said it all.
Garcia, no longer The Best Golfer Without a Major, edged Justin Rose – 2013 U.S. Open winner, 2016 Olympic gold medalist, two-time Masters runner-up – on a playoff hole.
It’s not quite Jack vs. Arnie or Tiger vs. Phil. Maybe not Dustin vs. Jason. But in this age of golf parity, Danny Willett slipping a green jacket onto Sergio Garcia was a vault to relative golf royalty inside the Butler Cabin.
“Maybe now I’ll be ‘the best player to have only won one major,’ ” Garcia joked. “But I can live with that.”
An April with anniversaries and memorials blooming brighter than azaleas puts contemporary greatness in perspective.
As a tribute to the late Arnold Palmer, his four Masters wins and magnetic impact on Augusta, all Thursday patrons were given an “Arnie’s Army” button.
It’s been 20 years since Tiger Woods, at 21, notched his historic 12-stroke victory.
The late Seve Ballesteros, the Masters champion in 1980 and 1983 and a three-time British Open champ, would have turned 60 on Sunday.
“It definitely popped in my mind a few times, there’s no doubt about it,” Garcia said of his beloved fellow Spaniard. “I’m sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots or some of those putts.”
No one is more aware of golf history or great Masters pairings than Jack Nicklaus, who doubles as the greatest player ever (18 majors) and best storyteller, and Gary Player, one of only five golfers to win the career grand slam.
Asked to swap a few stories after their ceremonial tee shots Thursday, Player recalled a fresh conversation with Nicklaus.
“The other night he was saying, ‘What do you think it takes to be classified as a superstar in golf?’ Because everybody uses the word ‘superstar’ and ‘great’ in all sports, and they’re not.”
Six majors, Player answered.
“So Jack says – he knows I’ve won nine – he says ‘I think you’ve got to win 10.’ ”
Spieth and McIlroy
Winning majors has never been easy.
Spieth, the likeable 23-year-old, had his hopes for a second straight green jacket doused with a quadruple-bogey on No. 12 last year. He found Rae’s Creek again on Sunday (double-bogey).
“Fortunately,” Spieth said, “I get to come back for another 50 years.”
McIlroy, searching for his career grand slam, shot 69 but ran out of time.
Everyone likes Fowler. But his orange pants didn’t work, again.
Updated major totals for Sunday’s big names on the Augusta leaderboard:
- Garcia: 1-for-74 (which beats his 0-for-73 Sunday morning)
- Rose: One
- Fowler: Not yet
- Scott: 2013 Masters
- Spieth: Masters and U.S. Open in 2015
- McIlroy: Four, including the 2012 PGA Championship on Kiawah Island
Or, in other words, a combined nine majors – Gary Player’s career total, halfway to Jack.
Sergio not done
Now that Garcia has that first green jacket in the closet and a summer wedding on the way, more majors might follow. He was beaming Sunday night but captured his peace with the Augusta National essence best on Saturday.
“It’s the kind of place that if you are trying to fight against it, it’s going to beat you down,” Garcia said. “So you’ve just got to roll with it and realize that sometimes you’re going to get good breaks – like has happened to me a few times this week – and sometimes you’re going to get not-so-good breaks.”
Garcia got a few more breaks than Rose on Sunday in a Masters finish fitting of a special week.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff