How the Masters and Sergio Garcia combined to paint an unlikely masterpiece
Despite the annoying mantra of exclusivity, and despite his petulant past, Augusta National and the veteran Spaniard saved their best for last
Justin Rose is an unfailingly decent man by any standard. The fact that he remains so accessible and accommodating despite being a fabulously talented and wealthy sportsman is even more remarkable. Sergio Garcia is a fabulously talented and wealthy sportsman as well. However, in terms of being accessible and accommodating, Garcia has traditionally been the polar opposite of Rose.
That’s not a knock, it’s just a simple truth that became even more apparent as the Englishman Rose and the Spaniard Garcia began the back nine at Augusta National during the final round of the Masters.
The two were tied at eight-under-par and, for all intents and purposes, were the only golfers with a chance to win.
Rose had broken through the major championship barrier three years earlier with a victory at the US Open, while Sergio owned the biggest doughnut in all of golf. The Masters was his 74th start in a major with zero wins. Based on personality and affability alone, Rose would seem the clear choice. Regardless of the situation, he plays the game with a smile on his face and a bounce in his step that clearly says he knows how charmed his life is. Garcia has inherited the mantle of the most heckled European in the US since the retirement of Colin Montgomerie.
Much of it has been of his own doing, but not all. Garcia has been openly whiny and tortured with occasional impetuous outbursts both on and off the course. However, despite Garcia’s shortcomings in majors, he has nonetheless been a stalwart in Ryder Cup competitions during an era of European dominance.
Ryder Cups are now bruising affairs seemingly at odds with the inherent civility of golf and the most recent one last year in Minnesota was no exception. It was caustic and jingoistic to a fault and when it was all done Garcia had admittedly been dinged pretty good.
“The fans have been quite poor, I’m not going to lie,” said Garcia. “It’s unfortunate because I think that 85 per cent of the people are great and I love playing in America, but that 15 per cent that is really bad makes them look bad.”
Meanwhile, critics merely shrugged and said that’s just Sergio being Sergio and making excuses for the trouncing the Europeans got. Well one thing had to be heartening for Garcia coming into Augusta; he would not be heckled. They just don’t allow that thing at the Masters and every single soul in attendance knows it.
When it comes to control, the green suits of Augusta National could teach the boy leader of North Korea a thing or two. This is one of the most exclusive places on earth and that kind of exclusivity demands unprecedented control over people and behaviour. It’s no secret as well that the history of the club is rife with tales of racism and politically dubious behaviour because, well, that’s another hallmark of exclusivity.
Still a number of people, myself included, watch the Masters not because of its politics but in spite of it. Augusta National is a stunningly scenic sporting venue that has moved a few golfers to comment that it’s like playing in a painting.
It truly is a cinematographers dream and small wonder that the Masters is the one tournament that is must viewing even for the most casual golf fans. It is just flat out great theatre.
Improvised and raw, the back nine on Sunday at Augusta makes palms sweat globally. And yet despite all that, Garcia seemed uncharacteristically calm and relaxed. It was his time and it showed.
The crowd sensed it as well. Damnit Sergio, you’ve paid your dues. Now come on, go get that gorilla off your back. But this being the back nine at the Masters nothing is easy.
Garcia would relinquish the lead to Rose only to be all square on the 18th green before missing an eight-foot birdie putt to win. Ouch. Moans were audible around the world because by now anybody with a shred of empathy wanted Garcia to win.
Rose would hit his drive into the trees on the first extra hole, and by the time Garcia lined up another birdie putt, he had the tournament already won.
Still, this was all about the moment and whatever steps the overlords at Augusta National had to take to create this backdrop and whatever methods Garcia may have used to be at the centre of it was completely irrelevant.
When he made his birdie putt, the colourful and emotional scene was art of the highest order. Sergio was now finally playing in his own painting.