Even Jack Nicklaus feared Sergio Garcia was going to see victory slip from his grasp before the Spaniard won a thrilling 81st Masters to end his long wait for a first major.
Garcia beat Justin Rose in a play-off after the pair had fought out one of the best back-nine battles at Augusta National, making his breakthrough in golf’s biggest events at the 73rd attempt.
The Spaniard’s success came after a roller-coaster ride in the final round, leading by three shots at one point before slipping two strokes behind Rose after starting bogey-bogey on the homeward journey.
Garcia was in danger of slipping out of contention when his tee shot at the 13th ended up in a bush before producing a brilliant up and down there to save par.
The 37-year-old then birdied the 14th and eagled the 15th, where he almost holed an 8-iron, before holing a 15-foot birdie putt at the first extra hole when he had two putts for victory.
“Congratulations to Sergio Garcia on his first Masters victory and first major!” wrote Nicklaus, a record six-time Masters champion, on Twitter.
“I thought Sergio played very composed, played very well, and he played like he wasn’t going to be denied - even after he made a couple mistakes.
“After what happened at the start of the back nine for Sergio, I thought, “Oh no, here it goes again. Is Sergio going to be able to finish?”
“He fought his way back into it. Sergio was just very composed all day; he played very nicely; and played well within himself.
“Sergio should be very proud of himself. He played like the champion that he is.”
The victory came in Garcia’s 19th Masters appearance - the most starts by a player at Augusta National before claiming his first victory.
It was also delivered on the day that the late Seve Ballesteros would have turned 60.
Ballesteros won twice at Augusta National, including a first European victory, and so, too, did Olazabal.
“I know that two of Sergio’s idols have been Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, and I am certain it is very meaningful to Sergio to join them as Masters champions,” added Nicklaus.
“It was very special that Sergio could win on what would have been Seve’s 60th birthday. That was very appropriate and very nice for Sergio.”
Justin Rose admits losing a one-shot lead with two holes to play in the Masters is set to “sting” but the Englishman is already targetting “summer success” this year.
Rose, the 2013 US Open champion, was on course for a second major before taking an untimely bogey at the 17th hole in the first round.
He then shaved the hole with a 15-foot birdie putt at the last before losing to Sergio Garcia at the first extra hole in a sudden-death shoot-out for the green jacket.
“It’s going to sting for sure,” said Rose. “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. I just want to win here.
“I have plenty more looks, and I feel good about it happening.”
The US Open at Erin Hills in Wisconsin is next up on the 2017 major calendar before Royal Birkdale stages The Open then the US PGA Championship visits Quail Hollow.
“For me, golf is about April to September,” added Rose. “That’s where the big tournaments are. That’s where the tournaments that change your career are.
“So, this is the first one of four. I feel motivated for the summer, and I will be moving on and setting goals very quickly after this.
“I still have 20 or so majors left that I feel really primed and ready for.”
Rory McIlroy’s bid to try and complete what is fast becoming an exclusive career Grand Slam will have to wait another 12 months.
It follows the Northern Irishman being unable to make his presence felt over the final two rounds.
Since giving himself that opportunity to join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in winning all four majors, McIlroy has finished fourth, 10th and seventh.
That’s anything but shabby, but he just can’t seem to find that spark here that helped him land two US PGA titles, a US Open and, of course, an Open Championship in 2014.
“I feel like I’ve finished five or six back the last few years so give me a six-shot start and I’m your man,” said the 27-year-old after signing off with a 69 - his best round of the week - to finish on three-under.
“I feel encouraged, if nothing else. I feel comfortable on the golf course and feel like every time I tee up I’ve got a chance to win. I’ve had four top 10s in a row here.
“Top 10s isn’t what Im looking for but, at the same time, the ups and downs I’ve had here in the past don’t quite seem to be so up and quite so down.
“It seems a little more steady, and that can only bode well for the future.”
World No 1 Dustin Johnson missed out on the season’s opening major but is hoping to be back playing in plenty of time for his US Open defence in mid-June.
According to his agent, Johnson, who couldn’t play in the Masters after hurting his back in a fall on Wednesday, is planning to return in next month’s Wells Fargo Championship at Walmington in South Carolina.