AUGUSTA, GA. – On a hillside by the 16th hole at Augusta National, fans may sit on the grass and enjoy a view of the sixth and 16th greens and the 17th tee box.
From the top of a grandstand behind the eighth green, viewers can see the eighth and ninth fairways. In the cul-de-sac of Amen Corner, there are shade trees affording a view of the 11th green, 12th hole and 13th fairway.
Despite these ideal resting places, many will bustle into Augusta National during the Masters at 7 a.m. and plunk down their green folding chairs behind the 18th green.
Crowds will block their view of the ninth green and 10th tee box. There are no trees to provide shade. They will wait 12 hours for the leaders to come through.
Sunday, they were rewarded with two visits from the final pairing. Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose made pars on the 72nd hole of the tournament and then returned to the 18th tee for a playoff. When Rose missed a long par putt and Garcia buried his downhill birdie attempt, Garcia had won the Masters and his first major.
Known for blown chances and fits of despair, Garcia blew kisses to the gallery. “Maybe I’ll be the best player to only win one major now,’’ Garcia said with a smile. “I can live with that.’’
Unlike at the other majors, phones are not allowed at the Masters, nor are earpieces that allow fans to track events elsewhere on the sprawling course.
So when Garcia made par and Rose made bogey on the 71st hole, there was a loud gasp, then a roar by the 18th green when the news was conveyed by a hand-operated scoreboard.
For the previous hour, the Masters had become match play between two players who competed when they were 14-year-olds and matured into European Ryder Cup teammates. Rose had won a major. Garcia was playing in his 74th major and 19th Masters. No one ever had competed in that many Masters before winning one.
Garcia had argued that he was a different person than the player known for choking away majors and complaining about Augusta National. He proved that all week.
He didn’t let a scoring misunderstanding on Friday bother him, and he came back from bogeys on 10 and 11 on Sunday. He would win on what would have been the 60th birthday of his hero, Seve Ballesteros, but he didn’t need imagination to gain inspiration from his fiancée, former Texas golfer Angela Akins, who left notes on their bathroom mirror all week. “Everything from Buddha to Kathryn Hepburn,’’ she said.
When Rose benefited from fortuitous bounces down the stretch, Garcia did not complain. “Today, I felt the calmest I’ve ever felt on a major Sunday,’’ he said. “Even after a couple of bogeys, I was still positive. I still believed.’’
Rose may have helped. The two exchanged high-fives after dropping shots within birdie range on No. 16, and Rose gave Garcia a thumb’s-up after he hit it close on 18. They embraced after Garcia’s winning putt, Rose telling him, “Nobody deserves it more than you.’’
But major titles aren’t bestowed; they are earned. At 37, Garcia banished his inner whiner on a course he admits doesn’t fit his eye. Even when his drive hit a tree on 13, he remained composed.
“In the past, I would have started going at my caddie, oh, you know, ‘Why doesn’t it go through?’ ’’ Garcia said. “But I was like, well, if that is what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let’s try to make a great five here and see if we can put a heck of a finish to have a chance. And if not, we’ll shake Justin’s hand and congratulate him for winning.’’
In 1999, Garcia closed his eyes and hit a shot off a tree root and down a Medinah fairway, then ran after it, filled with the joy of the chase. On a Sunday almost 18 years later he finally caught what he was after.