AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 2017 Masters might have been a bit of Ryder Cup revenge.
Six months after the U.S. defeated Europe 17-11 at Hazeltine National to win the match-play event for the first time since 2008 and for only the second time in 17 years, Europe dominated the season's first major championship, led by the final twosome in Sunday's final round.
Sergio Garcia of Spain and Justin Rose of England were tied for the lead through 54 holes. After 18 holes and matching 69s, it still wasn't over and the two returned to the 18th tee for sudden death.
Garcia birdied the first playoff hole to win his first major championship in 71 professional starts and three as an amateur -- on the 60th birthday of Seve Ballesteros, the patron saint of golf in Garcia's native county of Spain, and the beating heart of European Ryder Cup golf after the event was expanded to include continental Europe in 1979.
The timing of Garcia's victory on the birthday of Spain's first World Golf Hall of Fame member had been talked about since early in the week, when Garcia was asked what a victory on that day would mean to him when he made his first appearance in front of the media.
He pointed out then that he had a long way to go.
After Garcia completed that 73-hole journey, he was able to bask in the glow of winning the tournament that Ballesteros had captured twice.
"It definitely popped in my mind a few times," Garcia said. "There's no doubt about it."
Garcia and Rose were both on the losing European team last fall but they played relatively well. Rose was 2-3 and Garcia 1-2-2 as captain Darren Clarke played them in every session. Garcia is now 19-11-7 in the Ryder Cup, passing Jose Maria Olazabal in victories and tying Ballesteros for the most points by a Spaniard with 22.5.
Garcia is one victory away from tying Ballesteros' victory mark (20) by a Spanish golfer.
Garcia's victory at Augusta nearly completes the cycle of the most coveted titles in golf in his native country. Ballesteros and Olzabal won twice each at Augusta, were 11-2-2 in doubles as Ryder Cup teammates (Europe won once and retained the Ryder Cup in four years they played together), and were both winning captains for Europe.
All that's left is for Garcia, who has played on five winning Ryder Cup teams, to lead Europe to a victory as a captain. But winning at Augusta at the age of 37 shows he likely has a few more Cups in him as a player.
Garcia said Olazabal also played a part in his victory at Augusta, with a heartfelt note he received earlier in the week.
"Jose Maria's [note] was very special because he's my idol ... him and Seve are both my golfing idols since I was very, very little," Garcia said. "He's a great man and we've had a great relationship for many, many years. To be able to join him and Seve as Masters champions from Spain ... it's unbelievable."
The rest of the Masters top-10 included Thomas Pieters of Belguim, who went 4-1 as a Ryder Cup rookie in 2016 and tied for fourth as a Masters rookie, past Ryder Cup player Paul Casey of England, who finished alone in sixth, and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, who tied for seventh.
The only U.S. Ryder Cup players from last year who were among the top-10 were Matt Kuchar of St. Simons Island, Ga., whose hole in one at No. 16 was the highlight of a 67 that moved him into a tie for fourth, and Ryan Moore, Davis Love III's captain's pick who clinched the winning point at Hazeltine and tied for ninth at Augusta.
Two of the top U.S. Ryder Cuppers who were expected to contend in the final round of the Masters dropped into a tie for 11th, Rickie Fowler (76) and Jordan Spieth (75).
The cumulative score for the eight players on the 2016 European Ryder Cup team who made the Masters cut was 11-under. The nine U.S. players who made the cut were 7-over, a difference of 18 shots.
Garcia also had the honor of having a Ryder Cup teammate slip on the green jacket during two ceremonies. England's Danny Willett won the Masters last year to snap a streak of 16 Masters without a European player winning since Olazabal in 1999.
The last Europeans to win two back-to-back Masters were Bernhard Langer of Germany in 1993 and Olazabal in 1994. Two years later, Nick Faldo won his third green jacket, capping a span of 17 years in which 10 Europeans won at Augusta.
Europe has won only three Masters in the last 18 years but that could change. Rose has finished among the top-10 in the last three years and McIlroy in the last four. Pieters contended all week, Lee Westwood of England (who still has the most major championship starts without having won one) tied for 18th and still has some gas in the tank and Jon Rahm showed signs he may be the next Spanish golfer to contend at Augusta on a regular basis.
THE MASTERS AND THE RYDER CUP, SPANISH-STYLE
Golfers from Spain have historically had strong track records at the season's first major championship and the Ryder Cup:
(Player - Masters titles - Ryder Cup record)
Seve Ballesteros 1980, 1983 20-12-5
Jose Maria Olzabal 1994, 1999 18-8-5
Sergio Garcia 2017 19-11-7
This article is written by Garry Smits from The Florida Times-Union and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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