Another day closer and another European golfer to dissect ahead of Augusta. This time we are not only looking at a major winner but the defending champion here, Sergio Garcia.
Garcia finally got the major win his ability and career deserved and not many begrudged him a Green Jacket. He battled with Ryder Cup teammate and friend, Justin Rose on the Sunday as the pair co-led going into the final round, Garcia’s second 54-hole lead in a major championship. After a lot of back and forth it took a sudden-death play-off hole to separate the two, with Garcia coming out on top.
It was fitting that Garcia sealed his first major on what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th Birthday, and Garcia followed in both his and Jose Maria Olazabal’s footsteps, becoming the third Spaniard to win here.
If anyone is proof that patience is required at Augusta, and it may take a few goes to enjoy success, it is Garcia. 19 starts in this event has yielded just five top-10’s including his win last year and for a man of his talent that is not the most impressive strike-rate.
Amongst his efforts here are five missed cuts, which matches the amount of top-10’s he has here and he also has a bunch of middling results.
What is important though is that last year, the Spaniard finally broke his major duck and could not have asked for a better stage to do it on, especially given the date as well.
It is perhaps slightly unfair to suggest his record at Augusta is ordinary but before last year that was perhaps a reasonable statement. Now he has got his win here, his performances not just in this major but all the majors he plays in the future should carry a lot less pressure, now he has the got the monkey off his back.
Why he can win the 2018 Masters
Recently becaming a father for the first time as well as dealing with the pressures of defending his first major title, you would be forgiven for thinking it may all be too much for Garcia this year, but there is still every reason to believe he could get the job done again.
Firstly belief and confidence has to be at an all-time high these days and the lifestyle change that comes with being a father may not be a negative in this situation.
Quite often players get so involved in their games, that golf is the only thing that matters and that effects their lives off the course.
Ever since Garcia met his now-wife and the mother of his child, he has seemed at peace with his life and it almost appeared at times before his Masters win 12 months ago that if a major championship continued to allude him, it was no longer the end of the world. That attitude may well be what got him over the line in the end and could continue to help him in the coming years. It remains to be seen if that is the case, but for now I would hazard a guess that he goes close again in multiple major championships before his time is up.
His ball-striking of late has been absolutely exceptional, as is typical of of Garcia and he continues to contend because of it.
Since winning at Valderrama last season, a tournament hosted by Garcia and his foundation, Garcia has a win, three more top-7 finishes and no missed cuts.
A win in Singapore in January was followed by average finishes of T32 in Dubai and T33 at the Honda Classic, before he found some better form again. The return to form started in Mexico where he finished T7 and four shots adrift of play-off protagonists Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas before going again at the Valspar finishing T4 and just two shots shy of winner, Paul Casey.
It took a final-round 65 at the Valspar to even get himself in contention whereas his round of 70 on the Sunday in Mexico was the worst of the week, so he is clearly just having the odd off-round at the moment.
He is currently 2-0 in his first two matches at the Match Play and remains the favourite to progress from the group, with a showdown match against Tour Championship Xander Schauffele the only remaining obstacle. Both are on the same record, so the winner of that match today advances and it will be a nice confidence boost should he deal with Schauffele, and will also give him one or two more days to sharpen his game.
A man who is clearly on top of the world off the course and playing plenty well enough on it, I suspect Garcia will take his growing family to Augusta, drive down Magnolia Lane with his head held high and his chest pumped out and look for another special week.