Golf star Sergio Garcia makes history at Augusta Masters

The Spaniard won his first major title after 74 attempts.

 |  7-minute read |   10-04-2017
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Sergio Garcia has won the Masters this morning, ending his Majors drought after 74 attempts — four-time runner-up and 22 top ten finishes.

It looks like invoking the memory of Seve Ballesteros' 60th birthday inspired Sergio, like it did the Europeans in winning the Ryder Cup when Jose Maria Olazabal was captain in 2012.

Justin Rose played percentage golf much in the staid British and Nicklaus mould, whereas Sergio invoked Ballesteros-like flamboyance when going downhill and came up as a conquistador. In doing so, he became a master of August Masters, with his many attempts at masterful display as long as he wanted.

As predicted in my previous article, Willet wilted and Bubba spent little energy. Both missed the cut. Sergio won, but was not challenged by an American but a Briton and a friend — bringing out the best in him which a foe couldn’t.

Fowler scrambled throughout and tied 11th; scrambling is fine in the first three days, but it can’t produce the result on the fourth day during pressure-cooker situations. 

Here is the full story of this year's Masters:

During the inauguration, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player looked forlorn and misty-eyed, remembering their over half-century bond with the missing part of the trio — king Arnie who shall remain the ultimate benchmark for assessing star status, unconventional swing, daring shotmaking, a dedicated following (Arnie’s army), humanity and a humble nature.

sergbd_041017034853.jpg Winning moment: Sergio Garcia has won the Augusta Masters.

The first two days’ tee timings have a bearing on one’s game and fortunes in a championship.

So it was on the first day at the Augusta that caused distress to many. But those who stayed centred and scrambled — such as Fowler, Garcia and Hoffman.

Augusta would take little time to take an unexpected turn, especially while surmounting the home stretch, as witnessed by Speith (in 2016 and 2017), Rory (four-stroke lead lost in 2011), Norman (six-stroke lead lost in 1996) and Seve (by hitting into water on 13th and surrendering lead in 1986).

Charley Hoffman’s first-day five under 65 (against the average score of 75) and visage of a shy smile, smallish eyes, big forehead, massive musculature and confident conversation virtually resurrected an early image and effort of Jack Nicklaus; his effort progressively dimmed and disappointed over the next three days to end at tied 22, mirroring Rory’s story of 2011 in reverse order (Rory repeating Ken Venturi's four-stroke lead of the final day by shooting 80 in 1956).

Sergio Garcia’s solid driving accuracy (best on a PGA tour in 2017; putting improvement with no three putts in the first two rounds) combined with steady composure and accepting inclination aided by age allowed his steady march over the first three days. It helped him overcome the final test on the fourth day.     

If one were to metaphorically describe golf in a single word, I would state that it is only about a "stroke" — a stroke of luck! And also about a single "stroke", a golf stroke that is.

Ask any golfer about this and you risk a never-ending conversation with citations.

Ideally, in golf, an approximate score of 288 strokes over 72 holes played over four days keeps a player in contention for a championship. But, it’s usually a single stroke that yields wonderful or woeful results, often in geometric progression on either side of the scale, and separates the champion from the other players.

It was the execution of that exquisite one-iron shot at Merion that won Ben Hogan the US Open in 1950 after his near-death in an accident 16 months earlier (etched by a timeless photograph and commemorative plaque on fairway).

Later, Justin Rose replicated the same shot at the same venue by using the four-iron that won his only US Open Championships in 2013.

Or remember that famous one-iron shot by Nicklaus that hit the pin for a tap in during the 1972 Pebble Beach tournament; or Tom Watson’s famous chip in the same tournament ten years later that won him the championships; or Tom Watson’s famous 60-feet putt at Turnberry in 1977 or Lee Trevino’s chip-in at Muirfield to win the British Open in 1972.

Also recall YE Yang's famous single 210 yards three-hybrid shot that won him the 2009 US Open. Yang defeated Tiger Woods — a rare final day loss when leading. There are many such stories.

Similarly, it was Speith spoiling that single stroke on the 12th hole, named Golden Bell. It sounded the death knell for his ambition to win the Masters last year.

However, the most famous would remain a single stroke "Major" suicide by Jean Van de Velde on the final hole in the British Open, leaving the door ajar for Paul Lawrie’s single-stroke wonder, winning him the same British claret jug in 1999 (didn’t win any Major again).

Rory Mcllroy’s second shot on 18 on Friday this year at Masters actually turned a possible tap-in into a net loss of two strokes, putting him under pressure for the next two days. His dream of achieving a career Grand Slam ended in a tied seventh position on final day — still a remarkable result.

As stated earlier, Rory’s daring shot-making is striking, with a comforting lead of few strokes, and we need to wait when he does so.

This year, that single stroke would have to be the par saving effort by Sergio on the 13th hole after driving into trouble and taking a penalty drop. He was unstoppable after that. For Justin Rose, it would have to be 17th hole where a wrong reading of the wind led to a bogey, leaving the door ajar for Sergio. 

There are no superlatives to state or scribble on the sheets about the steely resolve of the sage-like Speith, who exhibits the infinite capacity to bounce back.

From being the 2014 runner-up to winning in 2015, to fighting the mental maelstrom while traversing Amen’s corner, especially on the 12th hole where the quadruple bogey marked a historical meltdown in 2016. 

Also recall how he bounced back after a quadruple bogey on the 15th hole on the first day. He recovered to just two strokes behind two leaders on the third day, but revisited the ghosts of the 12th by hitting water, heading for a rebound with three birdies in the final holes on the fourth day to end at a tied 11th.

Next year, hopefully both the ghosts of the quadruple bogeys in a round and hitting water on 12th would have been exorcised.

Spieth’s capacity to stay centred matches his 2015 victory, between two runner-up finishes.

But his temporary lapse of concentration causes him frequent heartbreaks. And one shouldn’t forget he is only 23 and had he won, he would have beaten Jack Nicklaus' record of having most Majors that age.

One can say that despite his vulnerable, boyish exterior he is, indeed, always under some sort of armour that shields him (much like Under Armour that he endorses) as seen in his smiling demeanour after the final holes and in the final interview.

Golf’s beauty is that despite domination by a golfer, there are always contenders waiting to usurp the throne.

Recall how despite the domination of Jack Nicklaus during those years, players like Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Gary Player, Miller always tried to capitalise, or how the Tiger Woods era also saw players like Phil Mickelson, David Duvall, Ernie Els and so on waiting for their turn.

Wearing the world number one crown in golf isn’t easy — ask Jordan Speith, Jason Day, Adam Scott and current number one, Dustin Johnson, among those whose status has oscillated during the last three years.

Fred Couples is attached to the Masters championships in an almost umbilical fashion.

Again, he put himself in contention on the final day to end at tied 18th, but would remain a sentimental favourite forever. His easy-going demeanour and effortless non-gloved swing reminds all of another golfer — the Big Easy Ernie Els.

Golf is about steely frame of mind to steel oneself in testing and challenging situations; controlling one’s jangling nerves on course; and the capacity to keep one’s concentration centred on those milliseconds while swinging is tough. No wonder, golfers practice yoga and meditation to develop the capacity of centering.

Whatever happened to golf artist Bryson De Chambeau who created a wave, much like Guan Tianlang who made the cut as the youngest player in Masters only to be lost somewhere now? Or even Ryo Ishikawa or Anthony Kim from whom much was expected — both of whom haven’t lived up to expectations.

True to its billing and the outcomes imagined by the great Bobby Jones, Masters 2017 ended with masterful insights into the game of golf.

Visuals of the azure sky’s allure, pines in perpetual motion, memorable magnolias and attractive azaleas will endure — wish I could capture them like Ansel Adams, especially the reflection of trees in water, for recall and reflection.

See you next year.

Also read: What Ryder Cup 2016 will be remembered for


Sushil Kumar Sushil Kumar

Film enthusiast and a senior IAS officer

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