BY PAUL NEWBERRY
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — As soon as the putt slipped past the cup on the first playoff hole, Justin Rose knew it was over.
He took off his cap and stood to the side of the green, resigned to his fate.
Not two hours earlier, it looked like the Masters was his for the taking.
Now, all Rose could do was watch as Sergio Garcia curled in a 12-foot birdie to finish off a dramatic duel at Augusta National .
“It was a wonderful battle with Sergio,” Rose said Sunday evening, “I just needed one or two putts coming in.”
He grimaced a bit, no doubt remembering the little 6-footer that skidded by the cup on No. 13, when he had a chance to put Garcia away after the Spaniard drove one under an azalea bush.
Or perhaps he was thinking of the 7-footer at the 17th, the one he just didn’t hit hard enough, resulting in a bogey that sent him to the 72nd hole tied with Garcia.
And he’ll never forget that final hole of regulation, his first crack at No. 18, where another 7-footer burned the edge of the cup. It really stung when Garcia missed an even shorter putt.
But Rose isn’t going to beat himself up too much.
“I would say this one probably is one that slipped by, for sure,” the 36-year-old Englishman said, quickly adding: “I can’t pick holes in my performance. I felt fantastic out there. I felt cool, calm and collected.”
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
Garcia, generally recognized as the best player never to win a major championship, finally removed that stigma against someone who knew a bit about how that felt before his breakthrough victory at the 2013 U.S. Open .
“If there’s anyone I had to lose to, it’s Sergio,” Rose said. “He’s had his fair share of heartbreak.”
Indeed, Rose seemed genuinely happy for a player he considers both a rival and a friend. The sudden-death playoff was a bit anticlimactic, pretty much decided when Rose drove behind a towering magnolia tree right of the fairway, forcing him to punch out and hope he could somehow make par.
He had a shot, hitting his approach to about 14 feet. But the putt missed to the right this time, and Garcia made it a moot point by rolling in his birdie.
As soon as it was over, Rose walked out to embrace Garcia in the middle of the green. The runner-up said a few words, patted the new Masters champion on the chest and walked away, leaving Garcia to bask in a moment he’d been chasing for nearly two decades.
“It’s always nice to be a part of history,” Rose said. “I would have liked to be on the right part of it.”
What a final round it was.
Rose and Garcia started out tied for the lead. Garcia quickly pulled ahead by three shots, thanks to his pair of birdies and a bogey by Rose, but his playing partner erased that deficit before the turn with three straight birdies.
At that point, it was apparent this would be a two-man race. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, playing in the penultimate group, had already begun to fade away instead of making the expected charge. A few players had a fleeting bit of hope, most notably Matt Kuchar after a hole-in-one at the 16th, but no one seriously challenged the guys out front.
Actually, it looked like Rose might win going away when Garcia’s swing turned wobbly on the back side. The Spaniard had consecutive bogeys at 10 and 11, and his errant drive at the par-5 13th forced him to take a one-stroke penalty, putting Rose in position to build a commanding lead.
From just off the back of the green, Rose knocked his eagle putt past the cup but still had a very good look for birdie. Garcia sank a testy 8-footer to save par. Rose missed his shorter attempt, leaving the margin at two strokes when it very well could’ve been double that.
“That little two-shot swing there was kind of when he was back in the tournament,” Rose said. “I feel like if he misses at that point, I make, I’m four clear.”
Garcia birdied the 14th and followed with a brilliant 8-iron off the flagstick at the 15th, setting up an eagle that tied him for the lead.
Rose went back ahead with a birdie at the 16th, Garcia pulled even again when Rose bogeyed the 17th, and they both missed those short ones at the 18th.
For the playoff, they played the hole known as Holly again.
Finally, Rose buckled.
“It’s going to sting for sure,” he said. “But you know, I really feel like this is a tournament that I can still go on to win. I’d like to win three or four green jackets, but one would be enough.”
Rose certainly had his chances in this one.
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