A dramatic match-play duel, Sergio Garcia's long-awaited breakthrough and a wrenching goodbye to Arnie: The 2017 Masters Rewatch
This is the latest installment of our Masters Rewatch series, in which we watch and recap the last 23 final rounds of the Masters while we’re working from home due to the coronavirus. What better way to get your Masters fix while in quarantine than by firing up YouTube and remembering all the stuff you might have missed from past Sundays at Augusta National?
This recounting of Sergio Garcia’s long, long, long sought first victory in a major has to begin in 2012.
I remember seeing the quotes when they came across our desks in the media center at Augusta National. On his way to another middling finish in the Masters, and after following a Friday 68 with a Saturday 75, Garcia hopped on the proverbial shrink’s couch and addressed the demons.
“I’m not good enough and today I know it,” he lamented. “I’ve been trying for 13 years and I don’t feel capable of winning. I don’t know what happened to me. Maybe it’s something psychological. After 13 years, my chances are over. I’m not good enough for the majors. That’s it.”
It was such a bizarre statement for a man who was only 32 years old and one of the winningest European golfers in history. For some, El Niño came off as a whining quitter. Others applauded his candor, but the takeaway was: Yep, this guy is NEVER going to win a major.
That’s what made the Masters Sunday of 2017 so fascinating. It was as if Sergio gave up trying to win the Masters, and in doing so, it simply came to him.
That his one-hole playoff victory over Justin Rose happened on what would have been his hero Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, that it came against an Englishman so much a part of his Ryder Cup career, that Garcia had to confront his past and dig down through adversity on the back nine … well, all that drama is what any great Masters is about, right?
This one was as good as most.
1.) CBS and America had their marquee pairing teeing off in the final hour on Sunday, and it wasn’t a couple of good, if not exciting dudes from UNLV, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore. That was a late twosome only their families and college coach, Dwaine Knight, could love. They were in the third-to-last group.
Behind them were the anointed ones, the Bros, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler. Spieth was the juiciest of stories. He had his monumental collapse on the back nine in 2016 after his 2015 win, and now, only two shots off the lead, had one of the favored themes in sports going for him: redemption!
Fowler, alone in third and one shot back, was a close 1(a) in story lines. He had yet to win a major, but draping a green jacket over his orange shirt would satisfy another theme: validation!
The themes carried over to the final group. Garcia had played in 73 majors with no wins, a truly stunning development considering he owned 21 top-level victories in America and Europe at the time (26 now). He was a playoff loser to Padraig Harrington in the 2007 Open Championship and the Irishman clipped him again in the 2008 PGA.
Rose had the 2013 U.S. Open title to his credit and comfort, but, as with most players, there was a sense he’d have traded that in a heartbeat for a green jacket. If Rose wins the Masters, he becomes the first European to take the U.S. Open and a green jacket—and it’s hard to fathom that hasn’t happened.
So, yes, CBS could have locked the “CSI” writers in a room and they’d be hard-pressed to come up with a better script.
2.) Not to be edited out is the specter of Arnold Palmer. Seven months earlier, The King died and left a hole in the Masters that will never be filled. Augusta National handled it with taste and simplicity. On Thursday morning, for the ceremonial tee shots, Chairman Billy Payne laid Arnie’s green jacket on the back of a chair. Gary Player sobbed and struck his shot. Jack Nicklaus pointed to the heavens and did the same. Maybe the most poignant image: Rickie Fowler kneeled at the rope line, his eyes red. Gulp. One more wrenching Masters goodbye.
3.) There’s a heartening story that CBS will carry though the day that Bobby Jones would have loved. Two amateurs made the cut—Aussie and reigning U.S. Amateur champ Curtis Luck and 26-year-old Stewart Hagestad. The latter, who played at the University of Southern California, is the first golfer to get into the Masters as the Mid-Am champ ever to make the cut. Hagestad is a financial analyst in New York and obviously gets a lot of time to play, because he’s an absolute stick. He gets air time with back-to-back birdies at 13 and 14, and on the day he shoots 73 and bests Luck by three to make it to Butler Cabin as the low amateur. (It’ll get even better for Hagestad; five months later, he’ll lead the U.S. Walker Cup team to a win over GB&I on his home course at L.A. Country Club.)
4.) Those American twosomes high in the batting order? They go down swinging early. Poor Spieth. He just had to find the water on his tee shot for a double at 12, with CBS quickly goes to the tape of the similar shot that started the unraveling in ’16. Spieth ends up birdieing three of the last four just to shoot 75. Fowler is worse with a 76, and they are the only players among the final pairings to not break par. Instagram weeped.
5.) CBS will do a tremendous job with informative graphic nuggets. Among the first is the obligatory look at the most accomplished players not to win majors. Jay Haas (his stature being arguable) tops the list at 78 played without a win. Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood are next at 75. Then Sergio. Next thought: And Phil Mickelson got a lot of heat for 47 whiffs!
6.) The important thing to take away from the front nine is that when Rose bogeys the fifth hole, Garcia is three up on him and four on the next-closest guys. Sergio looks calm, confident, in complete control of his irons. And that is all gone by the time he reaches the 10th tee. Rose birdies 6, 7 and 8, and Garcia somehow makes only par at 8 despite a 347-yard drive UPHILL! In what seems like a Ryder Cup intrasquad scrimmage, they’re all square through nine.
7.) Anybody who believes announcers can jinx a no-hitter (personally, not in that club) would have thought Sergio was toast as he stepped up to hit his drive on the 10th tee. CBS comes up with a graphic that seemed to all but bury the Spaniard: In 65 career Masters rounds, he is 31 OVER par on the back nine; Rose is 11 UNDER in 47 rounds. A stunning differential, and perfectly speaks to why Garcia hasn’t won. You’ve got to make your red numbers on the back from 12 on, right Tiger?
8.) On cue, Sergio absolutely chunks his 3-wood at 10. It’s not McIlroy-in-the-cabins bad, but Garcia is two bills from the green, and as he lines up for the second shot, he has to back off because of a noise in the gallery. “Suddenly, Sergio has 20/20 hearing,” quips Nick Faldo. The inference: A choke is in the offing.
The eventual second shot almost ends up in a bush on the right bank, and Garcia is fortunate to make bogey. Rose manages an up-and-down par and now he’s alone in the lead.
Sergio butchers 11 with a hooked drive behind a tree for another bogey, but Rose misses a chance to go three up when he can’t convert a birdie on the hardest hole after a great iron to 10 feet. (He’ll have nightmares about a few of these misses when it’s over.)
9.) Honestly, without the Rose and Garcia fireworks, this Sunday might have been pretty ho-hum. Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 champ, puts a nice little run together, birdieing five of the last 10 to shoot 68 and finish solo third, but three shots behind.
We do get a pretty sweet moment, though. Matt Kuchar, the beloved Georgia Tech grad playing with Rory McIlroy, makes an ace at 16, and “Kooooch!” reverberates through the pines. Kuchar has a great reaction, high-fiving anybody within reach. Then at the green, he shows a presence of mind that few would. He picks his ball out of the hole, signs it and hands it to an adorable kid wearing an old-fashioned chapeau that would make Sam Snead proud.
The ace continues an incredible trend. In 2016, there were three at 16 in the final round. With Kuchar’s, there are 11 holes-in-one over the last 14 years. There were only seven before that. Better equipment? Better players? A unseen funnel the Masters committee dreamed up?
Best thing is that most of these Sunday aces come from non-contenders, but Kuchar goes five under from 12 though 16, and if he can birdie 17 and 18, he’s got an outside shot at becoming mayor of Augusta. (Doesn’t happen; he has to scramble to par both and ties for fourth with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters.)
10.) All will agree that the tournament truly turns on the back nine’s great par 5s. At 13, it looks like Rose might pick up two shots. Garcia hooks his drive into a bush, takes an unplayable lie and punches to 87 yards. But Rose, from only 187 yards for his second, overcooks an iron that goes all the way to a swale in the back. Sergio makes a great up-and-down par, and Rose misses another birdie putt.
Garcia’s irons come alive. At 14, he rifles one from 150 yards to four feet and converts. Now he’s one behind.
At 15, another great drive by Sergio, and then the shot of the tournament—an approach that hits three inches in front of the cup and spins 12 feet away. Another dandy from CBS, and it’s almost unbelievable: The last Masters winner to make an eagle on the back nine in the final round is a Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal in 1994. (Wouldn’t you have bet at least a dinner that Woods or Mickelson did that once in their combined eight wins?) Anyway, Rose makes birdie, and they’re tied again at nine under.
11.) The tension over the last three holes is off the charts. Both guys hit it close at 16, but only Rose can convert and he’s back to one up. Rose has the advantage at 17 with Garcia in the front greenside bunker, but Sergio saves par and Rose three-putts for a bogey. Tied again.
Both give themselves birdie putts at 18 to win the tournament outright. After getting a really lucky bounce off a mound, Rose goes first from 10 feet, but burns the edge. So here it is: Sergio, after a sharp iron to four feet—“The shot of a lifetime!” Jim Nantz exclaims—he’s got a major in his hands. But this is Sergio and his majors history and his Masters troubles, and so he misses to send the two back to the 18th tee.
12.) We could say it ends rather anticlimactically when Rose drives into the magnolia trees on the right, punches out and eventually makes bogey. But that wouldn’t do justice to Garcia’s moment. He hits another great iron and, fittingly, his birdie putt catches the edge, and the golf gods tip it in so that the Spaniard can truly celebrate with his fist pumps and guttural screams.
13.) If the Masters fans and those in TV land had written off Garcia, who could blame them? He’d whined and pouted his way into territory of a foggy popularity. He’d long since lost his youthful charm and seemed a bit of a spoiled sport, all along retaining a level of talent that was electrifying at times.
On this Sunday, all was forgiven. The patrons were loud and raucously happy, chanting “Serg-i-o! Serg-i-o!” and singing, “Ole, Ole, Ole!” In Butler Cabin, Garcia seemed truly humbled and offered an insight that pretty much said it all about his Augusta journey: “I came to peace with it the last three or four years. I accepted what Augusta gives and takes, and that’s why I am able to stand here today.”
It all seemed well worth the wait.
2017 Masters—Final Round Broadcast