Sergio Garcia has never been the easiest guy in golf to root for, given his history as a whiner, forever complaining that the golf gods or even tournament officials were conspiring against him as he failed time and again to win a major.
But you’d have to be some type of golf-Grinch not to feel good for the sport’s most celebrated underachiever, as he finally broke through at The Masters on Sunday in compelling fashion.
It wasn’t exactly Phil Mickelson winning the 2004 Masters on the feel-good scale, but for a player of Sergio’s talent it felt right that he finally rid himself of the dreaded label as the best player never to have won a major.
Not that he did it in heroic fashion, however.
Indeed, Garcia missed short putts on two of the final three holes in regulation, both times with tentative strokes. And when he pushed his six-footer to the right of the hole on No. 18, when a make would have won the tournament, it looked like the story was going to be that Sergio choked when it counted most.
Finally, Justin Rose all but handed Sergio the victory by driving his tee shot into the trees on the first playoff hole.
Nevertheless, Garcia made some clutch shots on the back nine after it looked like he was falling out of it, especially his eagle on No. 15, when he cashed in a brilliant six-iron by making a 15-foot putt.
Bottom line: after going 0-for-73 in majors, Garcia surely didn’t care about style points.
Finally, all these years after famously dueling Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship at age 19, when it looked like he’d win at least a handful of golf’s biggest tournament, he had his major, which means everything in golf.
You could see how much it meant to him by his reaction, as Garcia pumped his fists and screamed aloud on the 18th green in the playoff.
Who knows, maybe this will free him up to win more majors and live up to some of the expectations that have haunted him for so long. At age 37 he still has time to make up for lost opportunities.
But it may well have taken the stars aligning the way they did at Augusta National this weekend for him to finally get that huge weight off his shoulders.
For starters, Garcia got the break of the tournament when his mis-hit at the 13th hole on Saturday somehow stayed on the severely-sloped bank rather than roll back into Rae’s Creek, allowing him to make birdie rather than bogey.
That was reason enough to believe it was Sergio’s time.
And then there was the connection to the late Seve Ballesteros, Spain’s greatest golfer. A two-time Masters winner in 1980 and ’83, Ballesteros was a hero and a mentor to Garcia before he died from cancer, and Sunday would have been his 60th birthday.
So it seemed to be fate, especially when Sergio opened up a three-stroke lead on the front nine. However, seemingly in a matter of moments on the back nine, he made back-to-back bogeys and on CBS Nick Faldo was talking about how Garcia’s nerves were suddenly affecting his swing.
Finally, it took another good break on No. 13 to get Sergio over the hump, as he hit his drive into the trees and got lucky enough with where the ball landed that he still made par.
Again, good for him to take advantage, but if you’ve paid attention to Garcia over the years, you had to wonder what he was thinking after all the times he has complained about bad luck or even invented conspiracy theories.
Way back in 2002 at the U. S. Open at Bethpage, he whined about having to play in the rain, saying the USGA would have stopped play had Tiger been on the course at the time.
More than once he accused officials in various majors of giving Tiger favorable tee times as well, and he seemed to come to resent the No. 1 player in the world for depriving him of majors as well.
The two players exchanged insults in the media a few years ago after they were paired together and Garcia accused Tiger of intentionally creating a commotion by pulling a club to hit as Sergio was taking his turn.
That, in turn, led to Garcia making what he claimed later to be a joke, saying he would have Tiger over for dinner during the U.S. Open and serve him fried chicken. He subsequently apologized for his "silly statement,” which only further angered Tiger, who said it was wrong, not silly.
On Sunday night Tiger congratulated Sergio via Twitter, calling his Masters victory "well earned."
Whatever Garcia’s motives, clearly he hasn’t handled his frustration well at times. He directed some of it at himself, declaring publicly a few years ago that he just wasn’t good enough to win at Augusta National, so clearly he was tormented in a lot of way over the years.
In that sense it was good to see him finally exorcise his demons. The great ones should all win at least one major, and Sergio fits that description, even if he hasn’t always acted the part.