AUGUSTA, Ga. – Justin Rose has won a major – the U.S. Open at Merion in 2013.
Last summer he collected Olympic gold in Rio.
A chance to grab his first green jacket as Masters champion Sunday was wrestled from his hands by the major king of pain – Sergio Garcia – in a sudden-death playoff.
The Spaniard bested the Englishman in a heart-thumping duel between Ryder Cup teammates that will go down as one the most entertaining in Augusta National and major tournament history.
With the win, Garcia ended a string of 73 major appearances without a victory. Rose had to live with his second No. 2 finish at the Masters, the first coming in 2015.
“I would say this one probably is one that slipped by for sure,” Rose said. “I mean, I can’t pick holes in my performance. I felt fantastic out there. I felt cool, calm and collected. And you know, barring a great comeback from Sergio, it was mine to cruise to the house. But it’s not always that easy.
“You’re going to win majors and you’re going to lose majors but you’ve got to be willing to lose them. You’ve got to put yourself out there. You’ve got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There’s a lot of pressure out there and if you’re not willing to enjoy it, then you’re not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”
This white-knuckle battle provided big shots and frustrating moments for both players. Tied for the lead at 6 under entering the final round, Rose and Garcia each shot 3-under 69 to close. Rose made five birdies, including three in a row on Nos. 6, 7 and 8, as it appeared he was surging and Garcia was fading heading to the last nine.
But Garcia hung tough, collecting an eagle on the par-5 15th to outclass Rose’s birdie. Rose birdied 16 but bogeyed 17 to leave the door open.
“Could I have made the putt on 17? Of course I could,” Rose said. “But for the most part, I’m not going to sit here and second guess one or two shots. I really stepped up. I felt great. I felt in control. I felt positive. I felt confident. “
Rose and Garcia both missed short putts for birdie on the par-4 18th, setting the stage for the playoff.
Back to the 18th tee.
The 36-year-old Rose finally flinched, knocking his drive right and into the trees. He was forced to punch out on his second shot and didn’t catch it clean. His approach came within 14 feet, but he missed the putt and took bogey.
“If I had any option to try and do something creative there, I certainly would have done it,” Rose said. “But I had a little pine cone behind the ball, which meant that I couldn’t really spin the ball – So I really had nothing.
“There was no way of flighting it and cutting it so low under that tree. I didn’t hit a great shot, but it was all about just getting it back to the fairway. Because with the pin in that little bowl, whether you have a 9‑iron or sand wedge, it’s pretty much the same shot. It was all about just trying to make 4.”
From there he could only watch as Garcia, 37, shed 18 years of demons by making 3, drilling a 12-footer for the Masters crown.
The Euro duo met on the green in an emotional embrace.
“We’ve played a lot of golf together since we were about 14 years old,” Rose said. “We’ve always had a good friendship and a good camaraderie and good rivalry. You know, and he’s always been happy for me, not just in ’98 at Birkdale but after the U.S. Open win. It must be hard, as well, for guys when they are striving to win majors and they are seeing their peers pick them off and they are kind of being left behind.
“It’s nice for him now to have that monkey off his back and I was very pleased for him.”
Garcia appreciated the sentiment.
“We obviously gave each other a big hug and he said, you know, ‘Nobody deserved it more than you do,’” Garcia said. “He said, ‘I’m very happy for you. Enjoy it.’
“It was a great battle.”