AUGUSTA, Ga. – As soon as the putt slipped past the cup on the first playoff hole, Justin Rose knew it was over.
Not two hours earlier, it looked like the Masters was his for the taking. Now, all Rose could do was watch as Sergio Garcia curled in a 12-foot birdie to finish off a dramatic duel at Augusta National .
“It was a wonderful battle with Sergio,” Rose said. “I just needed one or two putts coming in.”
He grimaced a bit, no doubt remembering the little 6-footer that skidded by the cup on No. 13, when he had a chance to put Garcia away after the Spaniard drove one under an azalea bush.
Or perhaps he was thinking of the 7-footer at the 17th, the one he just didn't hit hard enough, resulting in a bogey that sent him to the 72nd hole tied with Garcia.
And he'll never forget that final hole of regulation, his first crack at No. 18, where another 7-footer burned the edge of the cup. It really stung when Garcia missed an even shorter putt.
“I would say this one probably is one that slipped by, for sure,” the 36-year-old Englishman said.
Garcia, generally recognized as the best player never to win a major championship, finally removed that stigma against someone who knew a bit about how that felt before his breakthrough victory at the 2013 U.S. Open .
“If there's anyone I had to lose to, it's Sergio,” Rose said. “He's had his fair share of heartbreak.”
Indeed, Rose seemed genuinely happy for a player he considers both a rival and a friend. The sudden-death playoff was a bit anticlimactic, pretty much decided when Rose drove behind a towering magnolia tree right of the fairway, forcing him to punch out and hope he could somehow make par.
He had a shot, hitting his approach to about 14 feet. But the putt missed to the right this time, and Garcia made it a moot point by rolling in his birdie.
As soon as it was over, Rose walked out to embrace Garcia in the middle of the green. The runner-up said a few words, patted the new Masters champion on the chest and walked away, leaving Garcia to bask in a moment he'd been chasing for nearly two decades.
“It's always nice to be a part of history,” Rose said. “I would have liked to be on the right part of it.”
Rose and Garcia started out tied for the lead. Garcia quickly pulled ahead by three shots, thanks to his pair of birdies and a bogey by Rose, but his playing partner erased that deficit before the turn with three straight birdies.
At that point, it was apparent this would be a two-man race. Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, playing in the penultimate group, had already begun to fade away instead of making the expected charge. A few players had a fleeting bit of hope, most notably Matt Kuchar after a hole-in-one at the 16th, but no one seriously challenged.
Actually, it looked like Rose might win going away when Garcia's swing turned wobbly on the back side. The Spaniard had consecutive bogeys at 10 and 11, and his errant drive at the par-5 13th forced him to take a one-stroke penalty, putting Rose in position to build a commanding lead.
“It's going to sting for sure,” he said. “But you know, I really feel like this is a tournament that I can still go on to win. I'd like to win three or four green jackets, but one would be enough.”