AUGUSTA, Ga. — As Sergio Garcia strolled by the towering grandstand to the left of the 15th green Friday, hundreds of patrons rose to their feet and gave the defending champion a warm ovation — partly to acknowledge the newest member of the green coat club, partly to embolden him after the horrific octuple-bogey he endured on this hole just a day earlier.
There was no plaque to remind Garcia of his historically poor score, no police tape around the scene of the crime, but the gaffe was impossible to forget. The green number next to his name on the old-school leaderboard served as a cruel reminder: 15 — as in 15 over par through 32 holes, fueled in large part by the five balls the Spaniard rinsed in the pond on 15 in the first round.
Jordan Byrd was among the eyewitnesses. Byrd, an assistant coach for the Clemson men’s golf team, was on the bag for Clemson stud Doc Redman, who played alongside Garcia. The coach could barely stand to watch.
“It made my stomach turn,” he said Friday evening as he and Redman were headed to the clubhouse parking lot.
Redman was stunned, too. Over a pre-round lunch in the clubhouse Friday he and Justin Thomas, who was the third member in Garcia's group, rehashed the madness.
“We’d never seen anything like it,” Redman said. “It was just bizarro.”
And now Garcia’s week is finito, a title defense unlike any other. Garcia is the 11th defending Masters champion to miss the cut but none of his predecessors posted as high a two-day total as Garcia’s 15-over 159 — not Danny Willett in 2017 (151), or Seve in 1981 (154), or even Nick Faldo, who after his 1996 win returned to Augusta National a year later and posted a harrowing 156, which until this week was the most ignominious defense by a winner.
Give Sergio a break. Life has been hectic, as it so often is for newbie major champs. A wedding here, a green jacket appearance here ("If I told you everywhere I took it, I will probably miss my tee time on Thursday,” he quipped earlier in the week), a Callaway shoot there, a new baby there. He and his wife, Angel Akins, had their first child last month, naming her Azalea after Augusta’s 13th hole.
And this week, of course, was a whirlwind, with meet-and-greets and press-room runs and a Champions Dinner that Garcia did not take lightly. His highly thoughtful menu included a Spanish lobster rice dish, Angela's famous Tres Leches cake and a Caesar salad that included ingredients from every country that has produced a Masters winner. "We want to pay a little tribute," Garcia said.
It’s unclear what, if any, impact this week will have on Garcia’s love-hate-love relationship with this place; he didn’t speak to reporters after his round, at least not in English. But his second round was another slog — Byrd characterized Garcia’s mood as “not too good” — and another reminder that just a few years ago Garcia had written off Augusta as a course on which he could never win. He started his Friday outing with five pars before giving up strokes on the 6th and 7th. Then came a double-bogey at the 10th paired with four more back-nine bogeys.
Garcia was asked earlier in the week why he thinks only three players have managed to defend their Masters titles.
“The simple answer is it's just difficult to win,” he said. “It doesn't matter if it's back‑to‑back or just one. So people don't realize how difficult it is to win any tournament, and a major is even tougher, and Augusta and the Masters, it's even more difficult.
“It doesn't mean that I'm not going to give it my best shot and I'm going to try as hard as I can, but it's not easy to do it.”
On Friday evening, the air was cool and still and long shadows from the loblollies extended across the fairways. It was an idyllic scene as Garcia walked up to the 18th green, where a large gallery awaited him. As Garcia approached the green, he removed his cap to thank the patrons for their support. He finished with style, rolling in a birdie putt from eight feet, then he made his way through a channel of fans down to the scorer's cabin.
“You’re the champ!” one fan said.
That he is. Now and forever.