AUGUSTA, Ga. — In his knees and his legs, and in the uncontrollable bend at his waist, was everything from the past two decades, self-doubt and self-loathing and all the pain both can bring. Sergio Garcia has been — pick a phrase, because over the years all have been used — star-crossed and whiny, unlucky and unsure, talented and tortured. Each applies.
But Sunday night, so much of his life changed. Think that's an overstatement? Fine. But Augusta National once owned him to the point of dejection. He called it "unfair" and "too tricky." Majors once caused him so much frustration that he publicly declared he could not and would not win one.
So after watching a birdie putt at the 18th green, in a playoff with Justin Rose, curl into the bottom of the hole, doubling over was his only option. Though labeling it an "option" implies he was even in control of his body. After all this time, how could he be?
That putt, on the first extra hole of the 81st Masters, beat Rose, who joined him in shooting 3-under 69 in the final round for a 9-under 279 total. But it also beat back all the labels that had threatened to follow Garcia to the grave — that his unfulfilled potential had made him a disappointment, that he had lost the verve and joy that once had defined him, that in the largest moments, he came up small.
Garcia, at 37, won his first major title in his 74th try. Four times he had been runnerup. This was his third time playing in the final group after ending the third round tied for the lead with Rose.
"I think the problem is, because where my head was at sometimes, I did think about, am I ever going to win (a major)?" Garcia said. "I've had so many good chances, and either I lost them or someone has done something extraordinary to beat me. So it did cross my mind.
"But lately, you know, I've been getting some good help and I've been thinking … a little bit more positive. And kind of accepting, too, that if for whatever reason it didn't happen, my life is still going to go on. It's not going to be a disaster.
"But," he said, a wide smile stuck in place, "it's happened."
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 Rose. He got rid of the demons and doubts with two big moments on the par 5s — one a par, the other an eagle.
It was never easy until the end, when Rose sent his drive into the trees on 18 in the playoff, punched out and failed to save par from 15 feet. That gave Garcia two putts from 12 feet for the victory, and his first swirled into the cup for a birdie.
He crouched, both fists clenched and shaking, and he shouted above the loudest roar of the day.
"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."
By the numbers
6 Straight majors won by a first-time major winner
10 PGA Tour wins for Sergio Garcia, passing Seve Ballesteros for most by player from Spain
19 Masters starts by Sergio Garcia before winning, the most starts needed for a first Masters win. Mark O'Meara held previous mark, 15.
74 Major starts for Sergio Garcia before winning his first major. (This was his 71st straight major start, the longest streak of any current player. It dates to 1999.)