Sergio Garcia had to take a pee.
With his Masters on life support and the headline of another blown Sunday lead at the majors already written, the Spaniard detoured off the 14th fairway to relieve himself. He ducked under the rope line, walked through the pines, and disappeared.
When he emerged, he never made another bad swing again. Who knows what happened in that moment of solace or what he said to himself. He had just avoided an all-out disaster at the 13th hole, grinding out a par and dodging a Justin Rose birdie that would have pushed the lead to three. It was going the way of so many Sunday Sergio rounds — a lead evaporating and then turning into a fade on the second nine. Garcia takes a lead, gives it up, then falls behind in frustration. He falls behind and he certainly doesn’t come back from multiple shots with just a handful of holes to go on the most pressurized nine holes in golf.
But then Sergio came back out of the pines, under the rope, and met his caddie at his ball in A1 position on the 14th fairway. There were five holes to play in the biggest event in golf and every single swing he put on the ball from thereon was pure. The drives were piped down the middle, the irons were lasers, and the wedges were stuffed.
Sure, there were a couple of those classic Sergistrokes up on the greens because this is Sergio and Augusta and it was never going to be easy. The game, however, that tee-to-green ball-striking display that has had others drool for almost 20 years now, was there in its purest form.
Standing in the 14th fairway, Garcia pulled a 9-iron from 150 yards away. Moments earlier, his competitor in this all-time two-man battle at Augusta had to step off the ball with the breeze picking up late in the day. Rose looked flummoxed, repeatedly ripping up that precious ANGC turf and tossing it into the air. Sergio watched Rose hit, then stepped up and swung his 9-iron. He immediately started walking after it, stalking the ball before it dropped right on top of the flag. It settled six feet from the cup. Garcia watched Rose scramble for par, then buried his birdie putt.
After it went in, Garcia looked directly at the grandstand on the right of the 14th green and authored one of those crouching fist pumps that so many American crowds have come to hate after he crushes our spirits in the Ryder Cup. It’s a patented Sergio move and it looked as if he flexed every muscle in his body. A couple hours later, he’d do the same crouch, only this one would be accompanied by an enormous grin instead of that “VAMOS!” glare at the 14th. Garcia then walked to the 15th tee with renewed life and four more to play.
The 15th is the final par-5 at Augusta National with the possibility to be an enormous swing hole late in the tournament. That this potential even existed on Sunday came as a bit of a surprise. Just two holes earlier, on the other par-5 of the most famous back nine in golf, Garcia’s Masters’ hopes seemed dead. The 13th is an easy birdie opportunity, but with azaleas, thick brush, and water, there’s also the possibility for your entire Masters to end. Sergio yanked his drive into the bushes down the left side and had to take a drop. An inexcusable mistake, especially if you’re trying to make a comeback.
The scene was dead, almost somber. Garcia was futzing around with a rules official in the bushes as Amen Corner cleared out for the year. Sergio was slowly bleeding out on the second nine again. The clinical Rose was choking the life out of the emotional Sergio. It was depressing. Even if you weren’t rooting for a particular player, you at least wanted some drama over the final five holes.
A prior version of Sergio probably would not have taken his medicine at that moment. Referring to his drive into the bushes, he said as much after the round. “In the past, I would have started going, you know, at my caddie, and oh, you know, ‘Why doesn’t it go through!?’” On Sunday, he took his unplayable lie drop, pitched up the fairway, and got up and down for a par. Rose, who is the kind of opponent who would usually just let Sergio beat himself, then three-putted for his own par. That kept hope alive, but it seemed slim.
It was impossible to expect the shift in energy from that spot on the corner of the 13th hole to Garcia’s fist pump on his way to the 15th tee. At the 15th, we got the complete Sergio package. He murdered his drive down the center of the fairway, blowing it past Rose some 20 yards. Garcia watched Rose and his approach as it bounded to the back of the green, staring at him instead of moving on to prepare for and address his own shot. He wanted to know what he was up against in this two-man battle. Standing at the top of the hill, Garcia put a perfect swing on the ball with his 8-iron, attacking the flag and setting up a 12-foot eagle putt that could, improbably, swing him into the lead.
Garcia held the finish for an eternity, leaning slightly and hoping it would end up as good as it looked in the air. It did and that amphitheater that surrounds both the 15th green and par-3 16th behind it roared. The final group lagged behind the penultimate pairing of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler by a couple holes at this point — they were taking forever, but you kind of let it slide because it’s the final group at the Masters. It seemed like this would be such an inconsequential amphitheater moments earlier, but now the place was lit. The crowd kept it going as Sergio approached the green, and rose for a standing ovation as he crossed Sarazen bridge.
The putter backed up the tee-to-green brilliance, converting the eagle and prompting a slide-step fist pump. There is no one better in golf at the low fist pump.
Watch @TheSergioGarcia make a 14-foot putt for eagle on No. 15 and move into a tie for the lead at 9-under-par. #themasters pic.twitter.com/N1ow9uNhwA— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) April 9, 2017
Somehow, it was now Rose just trying to keep pace, needing to make a birdie putt just to pull even. It had flipped so fast.
In the dire moments when it all was trending the wrong way, Sergio freaking Garcia showed incalculable self-assurance over the final five holes of the freaking Masters Tournament. What a new and different world. He pumped his first again on the walk to the 18th tee with the game tied up. The crowd, at that moment, was decidedly pro-Sergio, which is an odd thing to say at a golf tournament held in the United States.
Garcia made sure to distinguish Augusta from some other, rowdier American venues when saying after the round that he’s always felt the support here. The crowds swelled around him, especially as Spieth and Fowler fell off the map up ahead. There was Spanish muttered then shouted throughout the galleries, too. A kid dangled from a tree near the 16th green and grown men tried to balance on their folding chairs at the 18th to catch a view. It’s not often the Masters comes down to just two players both playing in the final pairing. But Sergio-Rose was the only fight on the course.
There was no doubt about who the crowd was pulling for in that moment going to the last. Rose walked through the human tunnel to the 18th tee and they clapped. Sergio came a few moments later and they roared. The difference was hard to believe.
When they updated the board at the 18th green up ahead, reflecting a new tie, the crowd there roared, too. It was not for some Spieth or Fowler shot — they had been long done. Augusta is this bubble with no phones, no walking scorers, no electronic scoreboards or jumbotrons. You rely and guess completely on numbers manually changing on their classic leaderboards. This roar cascaded down the hill and back to the tee box just because they put a new number up on the final leaderboard on the course ... and it was for Sergio.
It wasn’t hard to understand why Garcia’s tortured history with the majors had most of golf pulling for him to get one, somewhere, at some point. He’d gone 0 for 73 at the majors and there was a 2004 Phil Mickelson feel to this down the stretch. Sometimes, it’s easy to win the crowd when you have this tortured history. Sometimes, it might even be more fun to pull for a contender like that than say, the 21-year-old setting records who gets it so soon. He even said it felt, at times, like he was back in Spain.
The Masters is a tournament where, five years prior, Sergio walked away incensed and declaring that he would never win a major.
"After 13 years, today was the day ... I don't have the capacity to win a major ... It's the reality. I'm not good enough and now I know it. I tried for 13 years, thinking I can win. I don't know what happens to me ... It could be something psychological, but if the shots don't fall ... it is simpler than it seems. After 13 years, I have run out of options. I'm not good enough for the majors. I will try to be second or third ... You can live without a major."
Even with his new green jacket wrapped around him, Garcia still said, “I’m not going to lie; it’s not the golf course that I’m most comfortable in.” For someone with the most major top 10s in history at the time of his first major win, it wasn’t a shock to see him finally get one. It was a surprise, maybe even for himself, to see it come here.
There will be much written and said about Sergio exorcising demons. Or winning it for Seve Ballesteros on what would have been his 60th birthday. Or that he won now because he’s at peace and engaged. That all played a part, probably.
But the guy just hit stone-dead-cold shots every single time he swung the club from the 14th hole onward. The 14th is the forgotten hole of the second nine, the one that they don’t put in paintings or in picture frames. Every other one has a defining characteristic or is instantly recognizable to the average viewer. It’s the one where you might get up to take a break when you need it watching the final few hours of the Masters. At that hole on Sunday, Sergio bailed to go the bathroom. He came back and never let up again. He did it with the game we’ve all loved for so many years and the one that finally delivered him his first major championship on an unforgettable Sunday at Augusta.