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AUGUSTA (AFP) – Spain’s Sergio Garcia captured his first major golf title on Sunday after 73 failed attempts, making a birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat Justin Rose and win the 81st Masters.
Garcia took his emotional, long-sought triumph over England’s Rose, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion and 2013 US Open winner, after they finished deadlocked on nine-under par 279 for 72 holes at Augusta National.
“Whew, it has been such a long time coming,’’ Garcia said. “I felt a calmness I never felt on a major Sunday.’’
The 37-year-old Spaniard took the greatest triumph of his career, and a $1.98 million top prize from an $11 million payout, on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol, two-time Masters champion and three-time British Open winner Seve Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
“It’s amazing,’’ Garcia said. “To do it on his 60th birthday, it’s something amazing.’’
Last-group playing partners and friends Garcia and Rose were level for the lead at the start of what become a tension-packed thrill ride of a final round.
“It was a great battle with Sergio all day,’’ Rose said. “If I had to lose to anybody, it would be to Sergio. He deserves it as much as anyone out here. He has had his fair share of heartbreak. I played well. He made a great comeback.’’
Only three players had more major starts without a victory than Garcia before he donned the green jacket symbolic wof Masters supremacy after nearly two decades of major futility.
Garcia led by three strokes after five holes, fell two behind after 11, then roared back to force the playoff and sank a 15-foot birdie putt to claim victory.
“Even after making a couple of bogeys I was very positive. I still believed,’’ Garcia said. “There were a lot of holes I could get to and I stayed positive.’’
Rose’s playoff tee shot soared deep into trees right of the fairway but bounced out onto pine straw while Garcia found the fairway.