“The most positive thing is that I feel like I have so much room for improvement,” he declared after marking what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday by joining both him and another Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal, as winners of a coveted Green Jacket. “So, if I’m here and pretty much just started, I’m excited. I’m 37. I’m not 22 or 25 anymore, but I feel I still have a lot of great years in me. And I’m excited for those.”
Garcia had been tipped to become a major winner since he was crowned as Boys’ Amateur champion in 1997 before adding the Amateur Championship at Muirfield the following year. On another visit to Scotland as an amateur, the player known as ‘El Nino’ was dubbed ‘El Duffo’ by one tabloid newspaper for a poor display, but he’s certainly ended up having the last laugh over the author of that particular headline.
Stretching back to the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Garcia had played in 71 consecutive majors. One of his closest calls prior to Sunday had also come at the Angus venue, where he had a putt on the 72nd hole to win the Claret Jug but missed it and then lost out in a play-off to Padraig Harrington.
This time the golfing gods shone on Garcia in a shoot-out for one of the game’s biggest prizes. It had looked as though it was slipping away from him as a three-shot lead early on in the final round disappeared as he wobbled at the start of Amen Corner. A par save after having to take a drop from a bush at the 13th was “big”. A birdie at the next was another timely boost. The eagle 3 he then made at the 15th, where an 8-iron from 189 yards hit the flag, was simply breathtaking. Olazbal had been the last player to win here to achieve that feat on a Sunday.
He may then have been helped by Rose, having edged his nose in front again with a birdie at the 16th, dropping a shot at the penultimate hole, but Garcia wasn’t going to denied on this occasion. The “old” Sergio probably wouldn’t have won after missing a shortish putt to close it out on the 72nd green. Thanks to fiancee Angela Akins – the pair are due to get married this summer – he has a new-found inner calmness. It was there for all to see as Garcia split the fairway with his drive at the 18th in the play-off, despatched a 9-iron from 145 yards to around 15 feet and rolled in the putt to end that long wait in style.
“It’s been an amazing week, and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life,” said the new champion. “I was much calmer than I’ve felt probably in any major championship on Sunday. Justin wasn’t making it easy. He was playing extremely well. But I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believed that I could do it.”
Did he fear that he’d never lose that pesky tag of “best player never to win a major”? “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,” he admitted. “But lately, you know, I’ve been getting some good help and I’ve been thinking a little bit different, a little bit more positive. I’ve been 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. Now I don’t know if I’ll be the best player to have only won one major. But I can live with that.”
The huge smile plastered across his face said more than words ever could.