SPORTS

Masters Tournament: Sergio Garcia wins first career major, at last

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, reacts after saving par on the 13th hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament, Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, reacts after saving par on the 13th hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament, Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)  (The Associated Press)

After 19 years of near-misses and frustration, Sergio Garcia ended his wait for a major championship in dramatic fashion at the Masters Sunday. 

After missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole, Garcia held his nerve and curled in a 12-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole that earned him the green jacket at the age of 37.

Playing the 18th hole minutes after missing a birdie attempt of his own that would have given him his second major, Justin Rose drove his tee shot well right of the fairway and could not recover. The Englishman, who won the 2013 U.S. Open and the gold medal last year at the Rio Olympics, missed a 14-foot par putt that could have put pressure on Garcia.

"Ser-gee-oh! Ser-gee-oh!" the delirious gallery chanted to Garcia, who couldn't contain his emotion.

Rose lovingly patted Garcia's cheek before they embraced. Garcia turned with arms to his side, blew a kiss to the crowd and then crouched down and slammed his fist into the turf of the green.

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

Prior to this week's Masters, Garcia had played 72 majors, 70 of them as a professional. He had finished in the top 10 a whopping 22 times, including second-places finishes four times -- twice each at the British Open and the PGA Championship. After the first of those second-place finishes, by one shot to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA, many thought it was just a matter of time until the golfer they dubbed "El Nino" would win a major crown.

Little did they know it would take nearly two decades for it to happen.

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, or missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation.

His chin was up and he battled to the end.

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 a 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, on the verge of turning 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 but not for long. Garcia birdied the 14th. His 8-iron into the par-5 15th 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 an errant tee shot, and Garcia didn't waste the opportunity.

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 Augusta National.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.