Of the four majors, The Masters is the one that most consistently produces genuine sporting theatre. As it turned out, the 2017 tournament was no different.
At the end of an exhilarating final day, Sergio Garcia stood at the centre of the 18th green as he released 18 years of major championship hurt. The Spaniard – a perpetual bridesmaid up until now – defeated Justin Rose in sudden-death to clinch his first major crown.
Garcia and Rose’s duel for supremacy turned out to be one of the greatest Masters finishes in recent memory, producing a worthy champion and leaving the millions of fans watching around the world gazing in awe at the events that unfolded.
But it was a great tournament from start to finish! Here are the 9 Greatest Moments from the Masters 2017.
Dustin Johnson’s dramatic withdrawal
We usually have to wait until Sunday for extraordinary stories, but Dustin Johnson dramatic, last-minute departure from The Masters ensured that wasn’t the case. The world number one – who has conquered all before him in a frighteningly dominant season – tumbled down the stairs in his Augusta rental home on Wednesday afternoon, forcing him to walk off the first tee seconds before his tournament was set to begin.
And with that, DJ’s hopes for a Green Jacket were shattered. The only other top ranked player to miss the Masters was Tiger Woods, who was forced to decline his invitation whilst recovering from back surgery in 2014.
There was something human about watching Johnson, who threatened golfing immortality with three consecutive wins at the Genesis Open, WGC – Mexico Championship and WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play, hang his head in disappointment as he retreated from the cameras. He’ll be back, of course, but not many people would have predicted Johnson spending his Sunday with his feet up in Florida.
The rise of the Hoff
Thursday undoubtedly belonged to Charley Hoffman, the unassuming 40-year-old who lit up the course with a sparkling 65 to open the tournament. As Jordan Spieth laboured to a 75 and defending champion Danny Willett signed for a 73, Hoffman made a mockery of the testing playing conditions to complete a round of 65 – ten shots lower than the day’s average.
With a gentle smile and slumping shoulders, the likeable journeyman negotiated one of Augusta’s most unforgiving tests with minimal fuss, producing an array of stunning shots on his way to shooting 31 on the back nine. The pick of the bunch is below, an expertly-judged tee shot at the 16th dispatched straight at the target.
It was a fitting way to start the tournament with which The King became synonymous. Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player completed their duties as honorary starters on Thursday morning, but there was a poignant focus instead on an empty lawn chair, Arnie’s chair.
Yes, for the first time, Arnold Palmer was not present alongside the other two members of golf’s ‘Big Three,’ and there was barely a dry eye in the house.
Tears swelled as tournament chairman Billy Payne, alongside Kit Palmer, draped the chair with a Green Jacket to indicate the King’s incontestable legacy on these greens.
It was one final salute from Arnie’s Army to the great man, who slipped into four Green Jackets during a career that saw him play 50 Masters in a row – and helped popularise golf as it entered an exciting new age of television.
Spieth channelling Palmer to ignite Saturday charge
After an errant tee shot on the 13th, Spieth found himself 230 yards from the hole. Stood in the pine straw, he turned to Michael Greller, his caddie, and asked: ‘What would Arnie do, Mike?’
Greller, perhaps trying to act as the voice of reason, pressed for a lay-up. Spieth, the precocious 23-year-old, was having none of it. Taking dead aim, Spieth lashed a full-blooded four iron second into the heart of the green, setting up a 20-foot eagle putt.
It was a shot that echoed the showmanship and imagination of a young Arnold Palmer, doubling as Spieth’s personal tribute to the game’s most universally adored figure.
After signing for an impressive third round of 68, Spieth said: “There are some studs at the top of the leaderboard, so it won’t be easy. I’ll have to play like Arnold Palmer.” He certainly played like him on Saturday, charging up the leaderboard.
Henley smashes cup in slam dunk eagle
Russell Henley doesn’t do quiet. He was the final man to qualify for this week after winning the Houston Open and duly took full advantage of his late invitation. In fact, the 27-year-old provided one of the tournament’s most explosive moments when his approach to the difficult 5th hole plunged straight into the hole without a bounce.
Dumbfounded back in the fairway, Henley couldn’t quite believe his eyes. That’s certainly one way to bounce back from a bogey on the previous hole.
At 10.21pm on Sunday evening, Matt Kuchar sent the 16th hole into hysterics. The dependable American, who emerged from nowhere thanks to a back-nine charge, aced the iconic par-3 with a beautiful shot that perfectly utilised the green’s contours, landing it just right of the pin and letting the topography take it back down into the cup.
When it rolled in, a deafening roar reverberated through the course, with cries of ‘Kuuuuuccch’ to accompany the adulation. But the crashing crescendo of noise was only the tip of the iceberg. After Kuchar walked up to the green and acknowledged the standing ovation, the American signed his ball and handed it to a young fan.
A touch of class: the kind of which reminds us why we love this tournament so much.
“It's not a keepsake for me but I just thought I'd brighten a kid's day up,” Kuchar said afterwards. I’ve cursed this man on many occasions during the Ryder Cup, but it was impossible not to like him at that moment.
Europe’s exciting new breed
While Garcia and Rose flew the European flag high as seasoned veterans of the craft, there were several moments during the tournament that reminded us the future is bright, mainly through the thrilling play of Jon Rahm and Thomas Pieters.
Both players figured in the narrative over the four rounds and, while it was Pieters who produced some stunning golf on Sunday to claim a T4 place, Rahm certainly offered another exciting glimpse of his endless potential.
Indeed, the 22-year-old Spaniard showed a touch and familiarity with the intricacies of Augusta’s layout to chip in wonderfully for an eagle on the 13th. Pieters, though, strung together an impressive sequence of four consecutive birdies on the back nine that catapulted him to -6, briefly threatening the lead.
They both wobbled somewhat at the very end but, once again, a major championship served as a potent reminder of Europe’s rising talents (which is comforting considering how the last Ryder Cup panned out).
Garcia’s career in majors has been one of ineluctable disappointment, so it was reasonable to assume that the Spaniard’s final round wouldn’t be without snags. As it were, it came in the middle of the round, with Garcia bogeying 10 and 11. Having been -8 and two ahead of Rose, Garcia suddenly found himself chasing the Englishman.
Garcia managed to steady the ship, calling on his finest recovery skills to par the 13th after driving into the creek. Then, after a timely birdie on the 14th, Garcia was ready to pounce. After battering a fairway-splitting drive down the 15th, Garcia arrowed a stunning 7-iron straight at the flag, striking the bottom of the pole and ending up 14 feet away from the hole.
The Spaniard’s putting had been tentative all day, but he gave it just about enough, with the ball teetering on the edge before dropping for a stunning eagle, triggering a Seve-esque expression of emotion from Garcia. At that one point, it was game on.
The Climactic Showdown
And to think: Masters Sunday was beginning to look pretty dull up until Garcia and Rose started trading epic blows. As the challenges of Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler faded, the European Ryder Cup partners engaged in a battle that stirred memories of Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson’s at The Open last year.
After Garcia’s stunning eagle on the 15th, events on the 16th only served to further quicken the heartbeat. After Garcia fizzed a beautiful approach into the treacherous par 3 to six feet, Rose duly followed with a daring shot that landed just eight feet short. On the green, Rose’s putt emulated Garcia’s on the 15th as it dropped dead-weight into the cup. A thrilling birdie. Garcia’s response? A tentative prod that fell away to the right. With the Spaniard’s putting woes returning to haunt him at a crucial moment, it was Rose’s Green Jacket to lose. Then, on 17, the Englishman let a par putt slide past the cup as the two marched on to 18 locked at -9.
What happened on 18 further cemented this battle’s place in the pantheon of Masters moments. After a couple of cracking drives, Rose and Garcia both set up great looks at birdie. When Rose’s slided by the hole, it looked like Garcia’s time, only for his effort to dribble away to the right.
On they marched back down for sudden-death. After Rose’s wayward drive meant he could only chip out to the fairway and find the green in 3, Garcia responded with another heat-seeking iron, setting up a chance to win. When Rose missed his par putt, Garcia had two putts to win. He only needed one.
When the ball dropped, Garcia’s chilling show of emotion portrayed his years of major torment. He has banished his ghosts, we can now officially say Sergio Garcia is a major champion.