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Teeing Off: My walk through the final holes of 2017 Masters
0410MastersSergioforVince
Sergio Garcia, of Spain, reacts after making his birdie putt on the 18th green to win the Masters golf tournament after a playoff Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. - photo by Matt Slocum

“Sergio’s done.”

It’s the first thing I hear when I reach the 13th fairway Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.

Playing in the final group of the 2017 Masters, Sergio Garcia has hooked his drive into the bushes left at 13 – one of Augusta’s biggest no-nos. His playing partner, Justin Rose, had a two stroke lead, and has just crushed a drive into the center of the green canvas. The tournament is all but over, only memories from Augusta lore leading me to have thoughts in any other direction.

Two or three hours later – I don’t know how fast time moves in Augusta — crowds chanted “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!” and “Sur-GEE-oh,” “Sur-GEE-oh.”

Sergio Garcia had won the Masters.

“This must be what life was like before cell phones,” the same ‘Sergio’s done’ patron says. We’re back on 13. There’s no Jim Nantz in our ears. Manual scoreboards are our Internet, the red number like a refresh of the browser.

The birds chirp. The orange sun makes the Georgia pines glow.

Sergio’s ball is in a bush, but the guy in front of me knows which bush it’s in. He saw it bounce off of a tree from 50 yards away. His friend is raving about his 20-1 bet on Justin Rose winning the Masters. “Have you seen his record? Rose always plays well here,” he says.

He’s expecting a $500 payday on a $25 bet.

After a drop out of the bushes, Sergio lays up, and then goes up and in for par, followed by a small fist pump. Rose three putts the green and also makes par.

“We’ve got a match – yes sir,” a guy yells, now everyone is rushing to their next spot of choice. A course worth of people are now on five holes. Sergio’s still down two shots but has avoided a catastrophe.

We’re now on the 15th fairway, and Sergio’s trimmed a shot – he’s down one. The birdie roar came from the 14th green. I’m not sure if it’s for Garcia or Rose, at least for a moment.

The second shot on the par-5 15th is one of the most crucial shots on the course, a place where history can happen, so I find my spot next to the ropes.

As Garcia lines up, birds chirp in the silence. I hear the crack of the golf ball, and a rising gasp turns into bedlam, with cheers and fists pumped into the sky as Garcia’s ball hits the pin and settles 10 feet left of the hole.

“I’m so glad I saw that live,” a patron says. It feels like a shot you see in highlight packages.”

Sergio sinks the eagle and does a fist-charging celebration reminiscent of his younger days, with the flare that made him a household name battling Tiger in the previous century.

We’re all tied up heading to the par-3 16th hole.

Patrons line the embankment on 16, a great amphitheater to watch golf on centerstage.

As the tee shots fly through the air, patrons rise like a tidal wave flowing from a gumball machine, the rumble of breaths building until the ball lands on the green, at which time the crowd erupts, or if it misses, exhales in distress.

“Sunday at the Masters – just a magical place,” a man says to his son.

Both Rose and Garcia nestle up closely to the traditional Sunday pin, but only Rose makes his birdie putt, and takes the 1-shot lead to the 71st hole of the tournament.

I know millions of people are watching this from their couch, hanging on every close-up and ball flight, but I don’t feel it. On the 17th hole, it simply feels like a stroll, a reasonable amount of people watching guys hit a tiny white ball around a beautiful piece of grass.

Birds chirp.

When Rose misses his par putt on 17, one patrons exclaims ‘yes!’ but most groan. Despite the crowd being largely on Sergio’s side in this pairing, the gallery is extremely respectful to both players.

At the tee box on 18, we hear a roar from the green. With no other golfers left on the course, it can only mean one thing – that red number was placed in the big manual scoreboard, and it revealed a tie heading into the 72nd hole of the Masters.

That roar only happens because cell phones aren’t allowed on the course.

Both players smash drives to practically the same spot on 18. While Sergio walks up the fairway, a man in a Spanish soccer jersey and running kids yell words to him in Spanish. It’s the excitement of the 72nd.

“How much is this shot worth? $5 million? 10 million?” a patron asks of the second shot on 18. I imagine his guess is low.

Rose’s second lands on the 18th green, and the gallery roars. Garcia’s lands next, and the gallery roars louder. On the course, our barometer for greatness is this.

Walking to the 18th green, it looks famous.

This is the scene from pictures throughout Masters history. I imagine Mickelson jumping into the air, or Tiger swinging his fist in a red sweater. That’s the painting in front of me.

Now a course-worth of patrons are on half of one hole, the gallery is probably 60 deep near the green, and few sight lines are left. When Rose narrowly misses his birdie putt, there’s a rumble of anticipation for Sergio’s pending putt.

“Let’s do it. C’mon, Seve,” a patron says under his breath, a reference to Garcia’s golfing idol, Seve Ballesteros, who would’ve been 60 on Sunday, but died of cancer at 54.

Patrons stand in their armless green folding chairs as Garcia’s putt misses. He’s missed an opportunity, and the distress in the air means everyone knows it.

Before the playoff, patrons jockey for position. Some go straight to the 10th, lining the fairway and green just in case the tournament isn’t finished at 18, the first playoff hole.

I’m just trying to see what I can. There’s a general consensus that this is the largest crowd ever on the final hole, but I have no way of knowing.

The playoff hole turns into more of a coronation than a competition, with Rose missing the fairway and having to punch out of the woods.

After both players hit their approaches, it is all but over.

“Sergio got a roar and Rose got a murmur,” a patron says, as the crowd builds in anticipation again, the reality of the winner coming clearly into focus.

Sergio Garcia had his ‘hang this picture on the walls of history’ moment Sunday on the 18th green, in the first playoff hole.

He did it for Seve, pulling the ‘best player without a major’ title from his resume in the process. He’ll forever be a Masters Champion.

“It’s been an amazing week, and I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life,” Garcia said later Sunday, now wearing his green jacket.

It has been an amazing week, Sergio – for you, and for all of its witnesses.

Vince Johnson is covering his ninth Masters Tournament. You can follow his Masters coverage in real time on Twitter @vincejohnson.

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