Ever since Sergio Garcia hit that magical closed-eye, around-the-tree shot at the 1999 PGA Championship, there was never any doubt that he was a supreme striker of the golf ball.
And yet, it took him nearly 18 years and 74 tries to win a much-deserved first major.
All the global outpouring of love that followed his play-off win over Justin Rose at the Masters on Sunday wasn’t because of sympathy for all the heartbreak he has had over the years. It was because of the awe the Spaniard generates when his game is on song – and during the four days at Augusta National, he really was hitting the high notes with aplomb.
Take away the two missed birdie putts on the 16th and 18th holes, and it was a ridiculous exhibition of shot-making from Garcia after the pulled drive on the 13th hole on Sunday.
Under the gun and having fallen two shots behind Rose, Garcia produced one spectacular shot after another, none more phenomenal than his flushed 8-iron second shot to the par-5 15th, which not only clattered the flag, but also climbed halfway up the pin before leaving him with the 14-footer that he made for a crucial eagle.
If he was sensational on the closing stretch, Garcia was solid throughout the 72 holes. He was second in the field in greens in regulation (55/72), one behind Paul Casey’s 56, and also second in fairways hit (45/56), one less than Soren Kjeldsen. He was also sixth in driving distance with an average of 291.5 yards.
However, my favourite stat of his domination last week was the fact that on the first hole, which gave so many headaches to the field and played the toughest –averaging 4.46 strokes – Garcia was two-under par for the four rounds. Those were two of only nine birdies made there the whole tournament.
And yet, this kind of golf is expected from someone as hugely talented as Garcia. So, what has changed for him? Clearly, from the beginning of this year, he is armed with a new attitude. It was very visible here in Dubai when he won the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, and it was on show again at Augusta National.
Both the Majlis course at Emirates Golf Club and Augusta have not been kind to Garcia in the past. At Majlis, he did not have a single top-10 in his seven previous appearances before he blew the field away this year with a 19-under par aggregate. And, at Augusta, his weekend total from 1999 onwards was 47-over par (he had the worst third-round scoring average of 74.9 in Masters history since 1990). The weekend this year netted him five under par.
They say behind every successful man is a successful woman, and that might be just true in Garcia’s case. His announcement at the beginning of the year that he is going to get married to his fiancee Angela Akins has definitely played a part in the transformation. She has somehow sorted out his priorities, and the fact that Garcia doesn’t believe that golf should be the beall and end-all of his life, has helped him on the golf course.
One also got the feeling that the Garcia of past would raise his hands after a succession of bad holes. Not the new version of him.
That was clearly visible at the Masters on Sunday when he dropped shots on the 10th and 11th, and was in grave danger of dropping at least another on the 13th, and yet fought back with renewed vigour to claim the green jacket.
Thank you very much to all my fans, sponsors and all the people that made my dream come true!! #masterschampion2017— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) April 10, 2017
It was also amazing to see the support he got from the patrons.
And the outpouring of love on social media would make you believe the whole world was rooting for him.
There is only one reason for that – Garcia may have been emotional and have gotten himself into controversies, but he remains a good man at heart.
Garcia will now never again have to answer any major questions.
And, having finally shed the tag of being the best golfer in the world never to have won a major, he can now focus on turning what is a great career into a legendary one.
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