By Ann Liguori
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WFAN) — It was a calmer, more mature Sergio Garcia who won The Masters on Sunday, finally taking the big one in his 71st major as a professional.
Garcia defeated Justin Rose in a dramatic battle with a birdie clincher on the first hole of their sudden death playoff. The 37-year-old Spaniard, who has nine career PGA Tour wins and 18 international victories, credited his new attitude as a big reason why he is no longer one of the best players in the world without a signature victory, saying it was the calmest he’s ever felt in a major on Sunday.
And to have won on what would have been the 60th birthday of his hero, the late great Seve Ballesteros, only added to the welcomed victory. Perhaps Ballesteros beckoned the golf gods on Garcia’s behalf, particularly when his second shot on the 13th on Saturday hung on the slope, refusing to roll into Rae’s Creek. In a sign of things to come, Sergio chipped on and made a birdie from there.
Garcia continued on his crusade, not allowing the negatives to penetrate his consciousness.
He said he was most proud of his character and his mentality and “how positive I stayed even when things weren’t going that well on 10 and 11.” He bogeyed those holes.
“So even on 13,” he continued, “I didn’t hit that bad a drive. I’ve been hitting that drive every day like a high cut. This drive was probably going three yards left of the ones I’ve hit the other three days, and unfortunately it hit the tree and went in the bush. But even that, you know, in the past, I would have started going, you know, at my caddie, and oh, you know, why doesn’t it go through and whatever?”
Garcia had to take a penalty shot there, but managed to save par.
“But you know, I was like, well, if that’s what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put a hell of a finish to have a chance,” he said. “And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.”
Sergio went on to birdie the 14th and then he eagled the 15th, hitting a dazzling approach shot to within 14 feet.
Gone now perhaps is the pain and heartbreak from some of his previous performances in majors. In 1999 at Carnoustie, Garcia was in tears after an opening 89. At the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, he lost to Tiger Woods by one. At the 2007 Open Championship, he led by three going into the final round, shot a 73, missed a putt on the final hole and lost to Padraig Harrington in a playoff. At the 2012 Masters, Sergio was in contention on Saturday but shot a 75. Afterwards he said “I’m not good enough. I don’t have the thing I need to have … in 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”
After Sergio’s thrilling win on Sunday, he was asked if there were times over the last couple decades that he wondered if he’d ever win a major.
“To be totally honest, I mean, I’m very happy but I don’t feel any different. I’m obviously thrilled about what happened here today, but I’m still the same guy. I’m still the same goofy guy, so that’s not going to change,” Garcia said. “But, yeah, I mean, I think the problem is, because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about, am I ever going to win one? I’ve had so many good chances and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me. So it did cross my mind.
“But lately, you know, I’ve been getting some good help and I’ve been thinking a little bit, a little bit different, a little bit more positive. And kind of accepting, too, that if it for whatever reason didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster. But it’s happened,” Garcia said with a big smile.
He is engaged to be married to Angela Akins in July, the week after the Open Championship. He’s in love. He approached this major with a whole new attitude, taking the pressure off himself. And it worked. It certainly did happen, Sergio, and the golfing world is better for it.
Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori