BY JIM LITKE
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — No one had played more majors with less to show for it.
Sergio Garcia had plenty of reasons to believe it would go on that way forever.
He was already two shots behind Justin Rose with just six holes left when his hooked tee shot at No. 13 crossed the creek and settled beneath an azalea bush. Suddenly, this Masters took on a sad, if familiar cast.
Another bad break. Another alibi for losing. Like the 70 previous times he’d come to a major with high hopes, another one of golf’s biggest events appeared destined to slip from his grip. Instead of folding up this time, Garcia decided to fight back.
“I knew I was playing well,” he said, the green jacket draped across the Spaniard’s slim shoulders. “I was very calm, much calmer than yesterday, much calmer than I’ve felt probably in any major championship on Sunday.”
An improbable par at the 13th provided the impetus for an unexpected charge. Garcia and Rose had been butting heads since they were teenage stars in Europe some 20 years ago, and after the Spaniard pulled even with an eagle two holes later, this duel was extended to a playoff.
Both missed short birdie putts to win in regulation and returned to the 18th tee for the first extra hole. This time, the Englishman blinked first.
“Any time one of those guys gets that huge monkey off their back, I think it makes it a poignant major championship,” Rose said afterward.
He could afford to be gracious, of course, having won a major at the U.S. Open in 2013. But there were questions about the mutual respect between the long-time rivals. Not since 1998 have the last two players on the course gone to the 18th tied for the lead. When they embraced at the last hole, Rose patted Garcia’s chest, calling attention to the heart some doubted would ever be stout enough to win the big one.
“It’s always a nice to be a part of history,” Rose added a moment later. “I would have liked to be the right part of it, but nevertheless I hope it’s a good one.”
Garcia became the third Spaniard to earn a green jacket, winning on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros. And it was Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, who sent him a text on the eve of the Masters telling Garcia to believe and “to not let things get to me like I’ve done in the past.”
“Obviously this is something I wanted to do for a long time but, you know, it never felt like a horror movie,” Garcia said. “It felt like a little bit of a drama maybe, but obviously with a happy ending.”
Other things we learned at this Masters:
— Rory McIlroy arrived with a chance to complete the career Grand Slam — accomplished only by Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen — and he finished in the top 10 here for a fourth straight year. But other than 2011, when he took a lead into the back nine, McIlory hasn’t really been a big threat to win. The last four years, he’s finished a combined 26 shots out of the top spot.
— Jordan Spieth’s mastery of Augusta National — he finished second, first and second in his three previous appearances — never materialized this time around. The 23-year-old Texan struggled throughout. He was 10 shots behind after the first round, largely due to a quadruple bogey that echoed his final-round collapse in 2016. Spieth moved back into contention with a 68 Saturday, but he promised to play aggressively and promptly tumbled back down the leaderboard and finished tied for 11th with a final-round 75.
— Rickie Fowler, who played alongside Spieth in the next-to-last group, has been a marked man in the majors after posting top 5-or-better finishes in all four majors three years ago. He finished tied for 11th here, which hardly seemed like progress. By the same token, it also marked his best finish in one of golf’s four big events since the 2014 season.
— Like Garcia, long-hitting countryman Jon Rahm arrived at the Masters with plenty of buzz. No less an authority than three-time champion Phil Mickelson called the Spaniard a top 10 player even before he turned pro last summer. Mickelson had inside information, since his brother, Tim, coached Rahm at his alma mater, Arizona State. Rahm climbed as high as No. 12 in the world rankings, but a rookie mistake at his final hole of the tournament — a triple bogey — dropped him 16 places on the leaderboard and into a tie for 27th.
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