Sergio Garcia looked like a man who had it all when he lifted the Mother of Pearl Trophy after his dramatic playoff victory in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, his 11th European Tour victory.
“I couldn't ask for a better week,” Garcia said after his second victory in two months, his Doha delight following his impressive win at the Asian Tour’s Thailand Golf Championship last month, when he beat a star-studded field including World No. 3 Henrik Stenson.
The 34-year-old Garcia, accompanied by his girlfriend Katharina Boehm, appeared a picture of contentment at Doha Golf Club, where he’s hugely popular after competing in eight straight events from 2007, finishing in the top 10 in six of the past seven.
“When things off the golf course are in good terms, it’s a little bit easier to concentrate on what you want to do because you don't have so many things in your head,” said Garcia, who first competed at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in 1999, when the-then 19-year-old missed the cut seven months before competing in his first Ryder Cup.
“I'm very fortunate with that, with Katharina, with my whole family and the beautiful group I have around me. It's great to be playing well, it's great to be in this situation, and you know, the goal now is to keep going and to keep improving.”
Many of the large crowds following the action on Saturday were supporting Garcia, willing him to finally emerge victorious after coming close so many times, never more so than last year when he and George Coetzee looked set for a playoff before Chris Wood overtook them both with a spectacular eagle on 18.
“I think that last year I played nicely, too, but George and I got beaten by a great eagle on the last, so it was simple as that. I think that we both gave it a great effort and Chris was just that little bit better than we were.”
This year, Garcia opened with a one-under-par 71 and started moving up the field with rounds of 67 and 69, which left him at nine-under after the third round and just three off the pace on a day of high winds.
“I played nicely in the third round, but I thought my chances were pretty much gone. I thought that I needed to get to 11 or 12‑under because I thought the lead was probably going to be 15 the way they were playing. But the leaders came back a little bit and that gave me and some of the other guys a little bit of a chance.”
Like most champions, Garcia was able to raise his game at the right time and saved his best for last, sinking seven birdies in a sizzling seven-under-par 65 on Saturday to set the clubhouse lead at 16-under, a target Mikko Ilonen matched with a long putt at the last.
With the crowds energised by a sudden-death showdown, Garcia had a makeable eagle chance to win on the first hole of the playoff, but narrowly missed.
On the second playoff hole, it was Ilonen who was putting to win, although Garcia’s bunker shot that finished one foot from the flag and secured his own birdie was one of the shots of the tournament. The Spaniard finally clinched victory on the third playoff hole, which he birdied with a tap-in second putt after Ilonen could only manage par.
“The good thing is, as long as you're putting to win, even if you miss, you know that you're still there. What I was a bit more worried about was when Mikko had that eagle chance on the second playoff hole and he had the chance to win, but it was a tough putt,” he said.
“On the third hole, I hit a really nice five‑iron for my second shot and hit a good putt. I thought it had a chance, it just missed right, and he had pretty much the same putt he had for eagle before and still wasn’t able to hole it. I’m very happy and very excited about the way that things went.”
Looking ahead, Garcia is now a front-runner to book an automatic spot in Team Europe for the Ryder Cup, which would be the seventh of his career.
Garcia’s victory in Doha means he has a win and a second in his first three events on the 2014 European Tour, having started the season with a runner-up finish behind Thomas Björn at last month’s lucrative Nedbank Challenge in South Africa.
“With the end of last year and the beginning of this one, I got some good Ryder Cup points in there,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go, until September, but it’s good to have some of the work done already and I’ve just got to keep doing in the same direction.”
Garcia was also happy that his victory in Doha could add to Spanish pride a month after Miguel Angel Jiménez’s victory in the Hong Kong Open, a week after Pablo Larrazabal’s victory in Abu Dhabi and a day before tennis World No. 1 Rafa Nadal competed in the Australian Open final.
“Last month, Miguel won and this year we've already had two wins with Pablo and me. It's exciting on golf terms. I've always said I'm very proud of being Spanish because of everything that Spain stands for, but I think when it comes down to sports over the last eight or 10 years, I think we've been really, really good,” Garcia said.
“I think that the Spanish people should be very proud. We're not going through the nicest economic times, but at least we can give them something to smile about and be happy about.”
Garcia will now focus a lot of his efforts on the events in the US, where he recorded his eighth PGA Tour win in 2012. Although he didn’t win on last year’s PGA Tour, he made the cut in all 16 events he played and finished in the top 10 six times, with a further four top-20 finishes.
“Even before I won in Thailand, I consider last year was a really good year. Not in terms of wins, that's what everybody looks at, but the consistency that I was able to achieve last year was what really stood out for me. Obviously I’m still feeling like I can do better, so that's the goal.”
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