Sergio Garcia collected his ninth PGA Tour victory by beating Brooks Koepka in the first playoff hole at the AT&T Byron Nelson on Sunday. Garcia has fond memories at this tournament, shooting a 62 in his first-ever round in ’99, where he went on to finish T3 at the ripe age of 19, and winning it (also in a playoff) for the first time in 2004.
Garcia didn’t have his best on Sunday — knocking two in the water on the back nine — but he scrambled, chipped and putted his way to a two-under 68, 15-under total, which turned out to be enough to extend the match to extra holes. To card his ninth win on Tour was a little extra special because it matched the late Seve Ballesteros’ record.
“To be up there with Seve it means the world to me,” said Garcia, who only needed 23 putts in the final round. “You can kind of say I went a little bit a la Seve today. I definitely wasn’t driving the ball great until the end and couple of iron shots here and there, but I was chipping and putting great. Some of his wins were like that and I’m very proud of it today.”
Koepka, who held a two-shot lead over hometown favorite Jordan Spieth heading into the final round, didn’t have his best all weekend. In fact, he called it his “C” game. Koepka shot a one-over 71.
When Koepka and Garcia headed back to the par-4 18th for the first extra hole, Koepka hit first, knocking it into the water.
“Just start it down that waterline and fade it back,” said Koepka, describing what he was trying to do with the drive. “Hit the fade we always hit. (Instead) I kind of hit it a little bit off the toe and drew back into the water. Against the wind I was kind of hoping it would hit the rocks but it is what it is.”
Sergio stuck with the driver and smashed it down the fairway.
“It’s as simple as this: 18 is either a 4-iron off the tee or a driver,” he said. “It’s not a 3-wood, not a 5-wood, not a 3-iron. You either play short of the water or challenge it all the way with a driver knowing if you pull it a little bit, hit it up in the air you can carry. Hitting 3-wood is totally pointless because you’re still putting the water in play and taking carry away from yourself.
“I was happy with the driver. I knew that he could still hit it on the green and make 4 or 5 and if I laid up all the way back it wasn’t that easy to make 4, you know, hitting maybe a 7 or a 6-iron into that green with left to right wind.
“I just went with it. I hit a great drive in regulation so I just trusted myself and I hit a bomb. I hit probably the best drive I hit all day.”
Garcia easily made par, while Koepka posted a double-bogey.
“I didn’t have it the last 36 (holes),” said Koepka. “You can’t win a golf tournament when you’re swinging it and have no idea where it’s going. It is what it is…
“I can bring my C game and still compete. All week I didn’t feel it was that great. You got to learn from it and move on.”
While it was Garcia’s first victory on the PGA Tour since the 2012 Wyndham Championship, he was quick to remind that he has won on other tours. His last win was the 2015 Ho Tram Open, an Asian Tour event, and prior to that, he won the European Tour’s Qatar Masters in 2014.
“I’ve always said it, every win, doesn’t matter even if you’re playing in your backyard with friends, winning is always tough and winning here on the PGA Tour is probably the toughest,” said Garcia.
“But my wins in Asia, my wins on the European Tour, those mean a lot, too, because like I said before, the level — I mean the fields nowadays, they’re so much deeper than they ever were and it’s so much harder to win.
“What Tiger was doing all those years, you don’t see that happening anymore. You don’t see — I mean even with what Jason Day is doing, you know, winning three, four times, you don’t see winning 7, 8, 10 times a year. It’s very difficult. Every time you get one of these Ws it’s very special.”
Meanwhile, despite playing in the final group, Spieth couldn’t get anything going and posted a four-over 74 to drop down to a tie for 18th.
“Frustration with today,” said Spieth. “I mean, don’t go from the final group in second place alone and finish in 18th and there’s not many positives you’ll be able to take out of that other than the last hole I played I made birdie. That’s nice.
“I hit really solid swings, I was aggressive through the ball today, I wasn’t hesitant at the ball, which is what I was the last couple of days trying to guide shots. I put nice, fluid solid swings on the golf ball. I don’t know exactly what happened, whether a break here, break there, you know, gust of wind here or there that just let it push the balls to roll into tough locations, but I felt like I deserved a better score today than I did yesterday and that’s just how golf is sometimes.”
I came across this column from Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News and I found it quite touching:
And moments before Garcia was handed the silver-plated trophy, Nelson’s widow, Peggy told crowd about when Garcia played his first Nelson tournament in 1999 as a 19-year-old, and how he’d removed his cap and kneeled to be eye level with Byron, who was seated next to the first tee.
“I’m sure Byron is looking down with a big smile,” Peggy told Garcia, who then began wiping away tears.
“It’s been a very emotional week, and obviously Peggy finished it off by making me cry, which I didn’t think I was going to do,” Garcia said. “But it was nice to have that problem.”
Lots of emotional finishes in golf today!