Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 9, 2017

At Long Last, Sergio Stands Alone

As anyone who plays the game knows, every round of golf is unique onto itself. One might post the same score on the same course on consecutive days, yet in doing so arrive at the total number in completely different ways. That truth makes past performance a potentially thin reed to grasp in predicting the outcome of a major tournament; but as fans began streaming onto the grounds of Augusta National for Sunday’s denouement of the Masters, most were aware that twenty-seven of the last thirty winners of every year’s first major had begun the final round within three shots of the lead. That naturally put the focus on the seven golfers meeting that criteria after the third round. But if the weight of history suggested that of the fifty-three golfers who made the cut barely more than a half-dozen were competing for the championship, that did not mean Sunday at the Masters lacked stories.

There were two journeymen, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore, both seeking a career-changing victory. Hoffman opened with a magnificent 65 under brutal conditions on Thursday, good for a lead of four shots after the first round. He came back to the pack with a second round 75, but went into the weekend tied for the lead. He tenaciously hung in until the 16th hole on Saturday, when a pulled iron off the tee of the famous par-3 splashed into Rae’s Creek. The resulting double-bogey pushed him back into a tie for 4th place going into Sunday. There he found himself tied with Moore, who had followed an opening 75 with matching 69s in the second and third rounds. The biggest of Moore’s five PGA Tour wins came last August at the John Deere Classic. The timing of the victory led Davis Love III to make him a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup team, and Moore scored the winning point for Team USA at Hazeltine.

There was the American star trying to get off the list of best golfers to have never won a major. Rickie Fowler looked like his achievements were finally catching up to his celebrity when he won both the Players Championship and the Deutsche Bank, a FedEx Cup playoff event, in 2015. But Fowler then went winless until this February, when he prevailed at the Honda Classic. Still he remains one of the most popular stars on the Tour, and surely one of the players who excites young people and draws a new generation to the game.

There were also two golfers who had already proven their ability to win at Augusta. Adam Scott and his textbook perfect swing ended the long Australian jinx at the Masters with his playoff victory over Angel Cabrera in 2013. That was one year before Jordan Spieth played at the tournament for the first time. With finishes of second, first and second, the 23-year old American had already proven beyond doubt that the hills of Augusta National fit his eye. But for a final round quadruple-bogey at the 12th last year, and a first round quad at the 15th this, Spieth would have been leading the tournament and going for his third consecutive green jacket. That track record made him the logical favorite, even if he started the final round tied with Hoffman and Moore, two behind the leaders.

As compelling as any of those five stories might have been as the winner’s tale, none of these golfers had the under par round needed by a Sunday pursuer. Both Hoffman and Moore went over par early, the former with a double at the 7th and the latter with his own double-bogey at the 3rd. Fowler’s iron play let him down, as he missed far too many greens in regulation to contend. Scott had an up and down round, offsetting every birdie with a matching bogey. Proving that past performance sometimes means absolutely nothing, Spieth had the worst day of all. He made the turn at 2-over, added another bogey at the 10th, and then reprised last year’s fourth round by rinsing his tee shot at the par-3 12th.

Which left fans with the 54-hole co-leaders, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia. Rose, the 36-year old Englishman, was looking to cement his place among the game’s best. He won the 2013 U.S. Open at venerable Merion, so had already proven he had both the game and the mettle to win a major. He had also triumphed at a FedEx Cup playoff event, a World Golf Championship tournament, and won the gold medal at least year’s Olympic Games. Spain’s Garcia, one year older than his friend and four-time Ryder Cup teammate, had won thirty times as a professional all around the world but had long topped that unhappy list that Fowler was also on, the best golfers without a major title on their resume.

By the turn the two had separated themselves from the pack. Garcia took the lead with birdies on the 1st and 3rd holes, and saw it grow to three when Rose bogeyed the 5th. But Rosie, as he is called by both fellow players and fans, then ran off three straight birdies to catch his playing partner as they went to the back nine.

Then fans surely thought they were watching what they have seen too many times from the player who has been known to all by his first name since bursting on the scene as a 19-year old chasing Tiger Woods down the stretch at the 1999 PGA Championship. A poor drive by Sergio on the 10th led to an even worse approach, and an eventual bogey. Then on the 11th he hooked his drive into the trees, and another bogey dropped him two behind. When his drive on the par-5 13th hole ended in the bushes left of the fairway, the common thought had to be that Sergio would tumble down the leader board with a disastrous home nine.

But today fans saw a different Sergio Garcia. After taking a drop from the unplayable lie, he sent his third shot down the fairway, pitched his fourth close to the hole, and made the putt to save par. When Rose, who had been just over the green in two, failed to sink his birdie putt, the two had matched scores on the hole and the momentum had shifted. Then on the par-5 15th, after a monster drive Garcia nearly holed out his second on the fly. The ball bounced off the flagstick and rolled fourteen feet to the left. When Garcia rolled in the eagle putt he moved back into a tie after Rose made birdie.

One hole later both players hit electrifying tee shots on the par-3 16th. When Rose converted his birdie while Garcia’s putt curled away, the Spaniard again fell behind. Once more he rallied with two fine shots on the 17th. When Rose couldn’t get up and down from the bunker Garcia’s par was good enough to send the pair to the final hole again tied.

Both missed birdie chances on the 18th, setting up a sudden death playoff. Playing the 18th again, Rose’s drive went into the trees. From there he had to punch out, giving Garcia the advantage. When the Englishman’s putt for par missed on the right side, Garcia had two chances from twelve feet to secure his first major. He only needed one. In his first interview after winning, Garcia said he felt “as calm as I ever have on a Sunday at a major.” Even when he fell behind he added, “I still stayed positive.”

Every round of golf is unique onto itself, but sometimes the stars align and the golf gods smile. Sunday would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros. The last golfer with a final round eagle on the 15th on the way to winning was Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994. Playing a round unlike any he had ever played before on Sunday at his previous seventy-three majors, Sergio Garcia honored his countrymen while winning a green jacket and a whole new group of fans.


  1. You have a wonderful way of recounting a sporting event, Mike. I am not a fan of golf, but you had me interested in the ins and outs of the seven players and the final victory. That’s good story-telling.

    • Thank you so much Allan. That’s what I try to do; great to know that every so often I succeed! I always appreciate your support.


      Michael Cornelius

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