Golf

Sergio Garcia wins 1st Masters in 1-hole playoff over Justin Rose

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Sergio Garcia wins 1st Masters in 1-hole playoff over Justin Rose

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sergio Garcia tugged the lapel of his green jacket with both hands, proud of his prize and how he earned it.

His hopes were fading Sunday in the Masters -- two shots behind with six holes to play -- when his tee shot bounced off a tree and into an azalea bush, the kind of bad luck he had come to expect in the majors. Instead of pouting, he figured out how to make par.

Five feet away from winning, his birdie putt peeled off to the right. Usually resigned to fail, Garcia proved to be more resilient than ever.

He was a new man with a new title: Masters champion.

Major champion.

"It's been an amazing week," Garcia said, "and I'm going to enjoy it for the rest of my life."

After nearly two decades of heartache in the tournaments that define careers, Garcia finally showed the mettle to win a major. He overcame a two-shot deficit against Justin Rose and won on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

No one ever played more majors as a pro (70) before winning one for the first time.

Garcia got rid of the demons and the doubts with two big moments on the par 5s -- one a par, the other an eagle -- in closing with a 3-under 69. It was never easy until the end, when Rose sent his drive into the trees on the 18th hole in the playoff, punched out and failed to save par from 15 feet.

That gave the 37-year-old Spaniard two putts from 12 feet for the victory, and his putt swirled into the cup for a birdie.

He crouched in disbelief, both fists clenched and shaking, and he shouted above the loudest roar of the day.

Rose, who also closed with a 69, graciously patted Garcia's cheek before they embraced. Rose then tapped Garcia on the heart, which turned out to be a lot bigger than anyone realized.

"Ser-gee-oh! Ser-gee-oh!" the delirious gallery chanted to Garcia. He turned with his arms to his side, blew a kiss to the crowd and then crouched again and slammed his fist into the turf of the green.

All that Spanish passion was on display, raw as ever, this time sheer joy.

"Justin wasn't making it easy. He was playing extremely well," Garcia said. "But I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believe that I could do it."

Garcia became the third Spaniard in a green jacket, winning on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros. And it was Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, who sent him a text on the eve of the Masters telling Garcia to believe and "to not let things get to me like I've done in the past."

He didn't get down after missing a 6-foot putt on the 16th hole to fall out of the lead, or missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have won in regulation.

His chin was up. He battled to the end.

"If there's anyone to lose to, it's Sergio. He deserves it," Rose said. "He's had his fair share of heartbreak."

This was shaping up as another, especially after Garcia watched a three-shot lead disappear as quickly as it took Rose to run off three straight birdies on the front nine.

Tied going to the back nine, Garcia immediately fell two shots behind with wild shots into the pine straw bed under the trees. Rose was poised to deliver a knockout on the par-5 13th when Garcia went left beyond the creek and into the bush. He had to take a penalty shot to get out and hit his third shot 89 yards short of the green. Rose was just over the back of the green in two, in position to turn a two-shot lead into four.

Everyone figured this was coming, right?

Garcia himself had said, in a moment of self-pity, that he didn't have what it takes to win a major. Four times he was runner-up. This was his third time playing in the final group. But right when it looked to be over, momentum shifted to Garcia.

He hit wedge to 7 feet and escaped with par. Rose rolled his chip down to 5 feet and missed the birdie putt. The lead stayed at two shots, and the game was on.

Garcia birdied the 14th to get within one. His 8-iron into the par-5 15th -- "One of the best shots I hit all week," he said -- landed inches in front of the hole and nicked the pin, and he holed the 14-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead.

Rose took the lead with an 8-foot birdie on the 16th and gave it back by missing a 7-foot par putt on the 18th.

Not since 1998 have the last two players on the course gone to the 18th tied for the lead, and both had their chances to win. Rose's approach hit off the side of the bunker and kicked onto the green, stopping 7 feet away. Garcia answered with a wedge that covered the flag and settled 5 feet away.

Both missed.

The playoff didn't last long. Rose was in trouble from the start with a tee shot that sailed right, leaving him blocked by a Magnolia tree. He chipped out under the tree, hit his third shot to 15 feet and missed the par putt.

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel birdied the 18th for a 68 to finish third. Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one on the 16th that gave him hope but not for very long. He tied for fourth with Thomas Pieters, who ran off four birdies on the back nine.

Jordan Spieth, starting the final round only two shots behind, put another tee shot into the water on No. 12 long after it mattered. He had to birdie three of his last four holes for a 75. Also an afterthought was Rickie Fowler, who started one shot behind and shot 76.

All that mattered was Garcia and Rose, who delivered a final hour as compelling as any at the Masters and a champion who began to wonder if he would ever win a major.

Garcia says he has learned to accept bad bounces. He realized he has a "beautiful life" even if he never won a major.

"If it, for whatever reason, didn't happen, my life is still going to go on. It's not going to be a disaster," Garcia said.

And then smiling, he added, "But it happened."

Tiger Woods' masterful Sunday elicited emotions from admirers and haters alike

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USA Today Sports

Tiger Woods' masterful Sunday elicited emotions from admirers and haters alike

Cheers. Tears. Exhales. The first two were bottled up for over half a dozen years, but then when the exhale came Sunday afternoon, the tears flowed and the exclamations of joy burst forth. 

Tiger Woods was back. 

As a certified Tiger fan for over half my life, I’ve ridden the highs and the lows of his career. I consider him the greatest golfer of my generation and second only to Jack Nicklaus on the all-time list. But the last 10 years have not been easy -- not for Tiger and not for his fans. 

Each golf season would roll around and the questions would surface, much like the lingering back issues for the former world number one. Each tournament, each major, and each recovery from injury would start the hope anew, only to be dashed like a shank into the trees.  Fans and the golfer alike endured jeers, laughter at his misfortunes, and plain old hate when reports of chipping failures or that he can’t or putt or walk would surface. But after a successful last year, or what we could consider a successful season in the Tiger Woods post 2009 era, it seemed different this time.

This past Thursday at the start of the Masters, those in the Tiger fan camp once again gathered a collective strength and marched into the pool of Tiger doubters, naysayers, down-right haters that we encounter in the national media, among our family and friends, and especially find online in those with a keyboard and a social media account. We braved the elements on Friday when he faltered a bit, puffed our chests out when he made big strides on moving day, and were rewarded with the penultimate gift: Tiger Woods in the final group on Master Sunday. 

Much like the last seven years, his final round was a roller coaster. But when he made the turn, so did the tide. A misstep by then-leader Francesco Molinari at 12 opened the door. As I was watching, I could only hear Tiger’s own words in my head. The younger players on the PGA Tour over the years told him: “we want to go against you.” Well, now they can. Now they’ll see. And they did. Along with the rest of us, including the doubters and haters.

Tiger made birdie on 13 and 15. And he was in the lead. Chills. Joy. Nervousness. And that’s when the text messages, the tweets, and the posts started rolling my way, everyone knowing I’m a Tiger Fan.

“I can’t believe it.” “No way.” “He will choke.” I just smiled and responded the same to every one of them, “just watch and enjoy. This is history.”

When he sank his short bogey putt for the win, a huge smile ran across Tiger’s face, and on the faces of every single Tiger fan, and I suspect even some of the doubters. How could you not? This man had done what many deemed impossible. He won his 5th Masters and his 15th major. 

Raw emotion has rarely been displayed by Tiger Woods. But out of the shadows of the old, stoic Woods, came the glowing smile of a man running to hug his young son, daughter, and mother. 

I sat there watching with my arm around my 4-year-old son, taking it all in, tears welled up and chills on my arms. This is history. And maybe so too are the dark days of Tiger Woods. 

Jordan Spieth avoids another major meltdown to win British Open

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Jordan Spieth avoids another major meltdown to win British Open

SOUTHPORT, England -- During one of Jordan Spieth's many low points Sunday in the British Open, his caddie reminded him of a photo from a Mexico beach holiday two weeks ago that showed him in All-Star company that included Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan.

The message: "You belong in that group."

Spieth left little doubt with a closing performance that ranks among the greatest finishes in major championship history.

Trailing for the first time all weekend at Royal Birkdale -- and lucky it was only one stroke thanks to a shot from the driving range -- the 23-year-old Texan followed with a birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie stretch that allowed him to close with a 1-under 69 and win the British Open by three shots over Matt Kuchar.

Spieth captured the third leg of the career Grand Slam and heads to the PGA Championship next month with a chance to be the youngest to win them all.

"This is as much of a high as I've ever experienced in my golfing life," Spieth said.

And it all started in a spot so dire it looked as though he would endure another major meltdown.

The break of the tournament -- and a moment that will rate alongside Seve Ballesteros making birdie from the car park when he won at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1979 -- was when Spieth discovered the range was part of the course.

His tee shot was so far to the right on the par-4 13th hole that it sailed some 75 yards from the fairway and settled in thick grass on a dune so steep he could hardly stand up, let alone take a swing. The only smart option was to take a one-shot penalty for an unplayable lie.

And that's when Spieth showed his golfing brain is as valuable as any club in his bag.

He had the presence to ask if the driving range was out of bounds. It wasn't, which allowed him to go back in a straight line from the flag until he was on the range among the equipment trucks. After getting free relief from them, he still faced a blind shot over the dunes to a hole littered by pot bunkers. He hit 3-iron just short of a bunker near the green , pitched over it to about 7 feet and made what he considers the most important putt of the day to escape with bogey.

And then came the finishing kick like Phelps, the go-ahead jumper like Jordan.

Spieth hit 6-iron to the 14th that landed in front of the flag and came within inches of an ace, leading to a short birdie putt to regain the lead. On the par-5 15th, he rolled in a 50-foot eagle putt and playfully barked at caddie Michael Greller to pick it out of the cup. "Go get that," he said, pointing to the hole.

And he wasn't done.

Spieth rolled in a 30-foot putt across the 16th green for a two-shot lead, and he kept that margin by pouring in a 7-foot putt to match birdies with Kuchar.

The final putt for par was a tap-in, as easy a shot as he had all day.

"To follow that bogey on 13 with great golf shots and great putts, and play the final five holes in 5-under par, I was just very happy for him and very impressed to watch all that guts, determination and skill," Jack Nicklaus posted on Facebook.

Spieth and Jack Nicklaus are the only players to win three different majors at age 23.

"This is a dream come true for me," Spieth said, gazing at his name on the silver claret jug. "Absolutely a dream come true."

For so much of Sunday, it felt like a recurring nightmare.

Just 15 months ago, Spieth lost a five-shot lead on the back nine at the Masters, coming undone with a quadruple-bogey 7 on the 12th hole. It was more of a slow bleed at Royal Birkdale, with three bogeys on the opening four holes and four putts inside 8 feet that he missed on the front nine to fall into a tie with Kuchar.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself unfortunately, and not on purpose, before the round today, just thinking this is the best opportunity that I've had since the `16 Masters," he said. "And if it weren't to go my way today, then all I'm going to be questioned about and thought about and murmured about is in comparison to that. And that adds a lot of pressure to me.

"Closing today was extremely important for the way I look at myself."

Kuchar, playing in the final group of a major for the first time, could only watch. He had a one-shot lead after 13 holes, played the next four holes with two birdies and two pars and found himself two shots behind and out of luck.

Kuchar walked off the green to find his wife and two sons waiting, a surprise because they had been in Colorado the day before, and it added to the emotions.

"It's crushing. It hurts. And it's an excitement and a thrill to have played well, put up a battle, put up a fight," said Kuchar, who closed with a 69. "I can only control what I do, how I play. Jordan is a great champion and certainly played that way in the finishing stretch today. It was impressive stuff. All you can really do is sit back, tip your cap and say, `Well done.' And it was certainly a show that he put on."

Zach Johnson, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler were among those who waited by the 18th to watch Spieth capture yet another major. Johnson won at St. Andrews two years ago, when Spieth missed the playoff by one shot in his bid for the calendar Grand Slam. Spieth drank wine from the jug that year, which he was told was bad luck for anyone wanting to possess the trophy one day.

"I started to believe them a bit through nine holes today," he said. "It feels good to have this in my hands."

From the driving range to the claret jug, Spieth put himself in hallowed territory just four days before his 24th birthday. Gene Sarazen in 1923 was the only other player with three majors before turning 24.

Spieth won for the third time this year, moved to No. 2 in the world and already has 11 victories on the PGA Tour.

Li Haotong of China shot a 63 and finished third at 6-under 274. He was on the practice range in case the leaders came back to him, and it was odd to see Spieth join him there as he tried to figure out how to get out of his jam.

Moments later, when he heard one massive roar after another, Spieth delivered the answer.