What's apparent about Garcia at age 37 is that he became a different golfer before — not after — finally winning his major championship. All week, as he remained among the leaders in the Masters, he spoke of a having better attitude about the course itself and being more willing to absorb the tough breaks that are inevitable in majors.
That mentality came into play Sunday on No. 13, which became a critical hole in his battle with Rose. Garcia's drive on the dogleg hole went only slightly more left than his usual line, but his ball hit a tree and ended up in a bush, so he took a penalty stroke. As he said afterward, the old Sergio would have complained to his caddie about the golf gods being against him.
"But you know, I was like, well, if that's what's supposed to happen, let it happen," he said.
He proceeded to make a miraculous par, remaining only two strokes behind after Rose missed a short birdie putt. The game was still on, and Garcia eventually won it.
Garcia took considerably longer than Mickelson to win his first major, considering he first appeared on this kind of stage in the 1999 PGA Championship duel with Tiger Woods. But he finally broke through, and everybody will view him in another perspective now.
Rose knows. He won the 2013 U.S. Open, elevating himself to a different level. Garcia said he never minded being known as the best player never to have won a major, because that phrase comes with a partial compliment. Just the same, that was always going to be the theme about Sergio, as his friend observed.
"Once you have one out of the way, the questions become easier," Rose said. "For him, he [had] to face that every single time he got in contention. Now, he doesn't have to. So it does begin to get easier."
And the 2017 series of majors gets more interesting, now that Garcia is a proven winner. The U.S. Open will be played in June at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, a new venue that Rory McIlroy labeled "a bit of an unknown to everyone." The exception is Jordan Spieth, who reached the quarterfinals of the 2011 U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills.
Defending champion Dustin Johnson will be back in the picture, after withdrawing from the Masters when he hurt himself by slipping on the stairs in his Augusta rental home. American stars Spieth and Rickie Fowler absorbed their own falls Sunday, after starting the day within close range of co-leaders Garcia and Rose, so they will have recovery in mind in the next major after processing what happened in the Masters.
"I'm telling you, it was so bizarre that I didn't feel one nerve," Spieth said. "I mean, I felt as calm as I've ever felt."
Spieth and Fowler didn't believe each's struggles dragged down the other as they played together, but they never made a move toward the lead. Spieth has a green jacket and a U.S. Open title as comfort; Fowler still needs a breakthrough.
Golfers should get some credit for getting into position to win, even if they fail — as opposed to sneaking into a high finish, as happened with the likes of Charl Schwartzel and Matt Kuchar in the Masters. Closing well is a big part of the game, though. If Rose had made his birdie attempt before Garcia also missed on No. 18 in regulation, Garcia would have been remembered for another failure.
But Rose missed and Garcia eventually won in the playoff, proving that a major achievement occasionally takes some cooperation from the other guy.