Sergio Garcia ends 18-year wait to win the US Masters
Spaniard finally claims a major title at the 74th time of asking on Seve Ballesteros's 60th birthday
Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia finally clinched a major title after beating Justin Rose in a tense play-off at Augusta to win the US Masters.
"It has been such a long time coming," said Garcia, who burst onto the scene in the late 1990s but had never landed a big one. "I knew I was playing well. I felt the calmest I ever felt in a major."
In a final round of fluctuating fortunes Garcia and his English rival finished on nine under par after 72 holes at Augusta, setting up a sudden-death play-off on the 18th.
Earlier in the day the Spaniard had established a three-shot lead over Rose with birdies in his first and third holes. But Rose had fought back with three consecutive birdies to rejoin his playing partner on eight under as they turned into the back nine.
The pressure then appeared to get to Garcia as he bogeyed the 10th, allowing Rose to take the outright lead, and he then hooked his drive off the 13th tee into the trees. Forced to take a one-shot penalty because of his lie, he managed to save par while a rare poor putt from Rose meant he also finished on par for the hole, instead of stretching his lead.
That seemed to encourage Garcia, who was looking to emulate Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal as the third Spaniard to win the Masters. Had Ballesteros not died in 2011 it would have been his 60th birthday on Sunday and the smattering of Spaniards in the crowd exhorted Garcia to do it for the great man.
Garcia certainly found inspiration on the par-five 15th, with a brilliant eagle - his first in 452 holes at Augusta - narrowing Rose's lead. When the English golfer bogeyed the 17th it was all level and both players fluffed birdied putts on the 18th to take it to a play-off that Garcia won to clinch his first major title in his 74th start.
"This is something I wanted to do for a long time," said García, who first came to prominence in 1999 when, as a teenager, he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship. "But, you know, it never felt like a horror movie. It felt like a little bit of a drama, but obviously with a happy ending."
And on an emotional day for him, and Spanish golf in general, Garcia said: "To join Seve and Jose - my two idols - is amazing."
For Rose, the result was a bitter disappointment, despite the fact he lost out to his good friend. Since winning the US Open in 2013, his only other significant title was the 2016 Olympic gold medal, and Rose has now twice finished runner-up at the Masters, having been pipped to the green jacket by Justin Spieth in 2015. "It is disappointing to come so close," said the world number 14. "I felt in control until the end. "But I'm really happy for Sergio. I'd love to be wearing the Green Jacket but if it wasn't me then I'm glad it is him."
South African Charl Schwartzel, Masters champion in 2011, was third on six under with Matt Kuchar fourth, one shot behind. England's Paul Casey and Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy finished in the top ten but never challenged seriously for the title on a final day that belonged to Sergio Garcia.
Charley Hoffman tames Augusta after Dustin Johnson pulls out
Journeyman Charley Hoffman was the only golfer to tame Augusta on a stormy opening day to the Masters.
The 40-year-old American, who has only once finished in the top 20 in a Major (ninth place in the 2015 Masters) coped best with the blustery conditions to post a seven-under-par 65 including nine birdies. He leads compatriot William McGirt by four shots, the biggest first-round advantage at Augusta since 1941.
The two Americans were the only competitors to card scores in the 60s although the English pair of Lee Westwood and Justin Rose will be satisfied with their day's work, posting scores of two under and one under respectively. Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy found the going tough at first but rallied on the back nine, carding three birdies in a level round of 72.
Reigning champion Danny Willett started his defence with a shocker, posting a double bogey and a bogey on holes one and two, but the Englishman regrouped to finish one-over par. "When I was stood on the third tee, if someone had said I would shoot 73, I would have ripped their hands off and walked up the hill and gone inside and had a cup of tea," he said later. "It was a less than ideal start, not what I had envisioned the last 12 months starting out my defence. But I fought back really well, dug my heels in and hit some really good golf shots."
The other talking point from the opening day at Augusta was the withdrawal on the first tee of world number one Dustin Johnson. On Wednesday the American had slipped down the stairs of the house he was renting, injuring his lower back and putting his participation in doubt.
He presented himself at the first tee on Thursday, however, after physiotherapy in the hope he'd be able to shrug off the pain. But despite a vigorous warm-up Johnson soon realised he wasn't up to the task.
"I'm playing the best golf of my life and to have a freak accident happen yesterday afternoon, it sucks really bad," said Johnson, the 2016 US Open champion. "I have been worked on all morning and obviously I can take some swings, but I can't swing full, I can't make my normal swing and I didn't think there was any chance I could compete."
Asked to describe the accident, the 15-time PGA Tour winner explained: "I was wearing socks and slipped and went down the three stairs. The left side of my lower back took the brunt of it and my left elbow is bruised as well."