Sergio Garcia celebrates winning the Masters PICTURE: REUTERS

Sergio Garcia finally lost the unwanted tag of “best golfer never to win a major” with his win at Augusta.

It took him all of 74 attempts to break the drought, but he nearly claimed his first title at just his second major as a professional, at the 1999 US PGA Championship.

The then-19-year-old was involved in a terrific duel with Tiger Woods at Medinah, and eventually lost out by just a single stroke.

He reportedly said before teeing off on the 18th in the final round, one shot behind Tiger: “Guys, I’m having so much fun. This is so great, I don’t even care if I win.”

Of course that was the exuberance of youth, but unfortunately for Garcia, it haunted him for the rest of his career. Until Sunday, that is.

Another second-place finish came at the 2007 Open Championship, where he was engaged in a four-hole playoff with Padraig Harrington. Garcia had led by a shot going into the 18th in regulation play, but missed a par putt to win, and then came up short in the playoff.

So, understandably, the Spaniard would’ve thought that it was never meant to be for him in major championships. But his aggressive, yet accurate style of play and enthusiastic nature almost demanded that he should be able to join the exclusive club of major winners one day.

But it hasn’t been smooth sailing. In the early 2000s, he developed a “waggle” of sorts – he would address the ball several times as he gripped his club tighter and tighter, taking an inordinate amount of time to hit the golf ball.

His Wikipedia page states that during the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black, spectators went as far as to shout “Hit the ball, Sergio!” as the frustration grew.

From 2001 to 2004, in 16 majors, Garcia missed the cut on five occasions – three times at the US PGA – but also enjoyed six top-10 finishes during that period. He had some success in the Ryder Cup too.

Yet, victory was still out of reach for someone who had amassed 31 wins during his professional career. He even took a break from the game in 2009 and 2010 as he battled with his putting.

There were top-five finishes in 2016, though, at the US Open and the Open Championship, which would’ve been a welcome boost to the confidence.

But, even after he pulled off that brilliant eagle at the 15th on Sunday, you had the feeling that Garcia wouldn’t be able to go all the way. Then, the nightmare of 2007 at the Open was revisited on Sunday when he had a five-foot putt to win at Augusta following Justin Rose’s missed birdie effort at the 18th.

Instead of drilling it straight into the hole, Garcia was tentative in his stroke, and the golf ball trickled past the right-hand side of the cup. Another playoff…

But the normally consistent Rose was the one to falter this time around, having miscued his tee shot into straw on the right, while Garcia kept calm and knocked in the final putt.

The emotion displayed was a wonderful moment for the 37-year-old, and it brought justification to the years of toil and heartache.

Soon after his 1999 runner-up finish to Tiger at the US PGA, Garcia was quoted by Spanish paper AS, saying that he wanted his nickname “El Niño” to be dropped.

I’ve been called ‘El Niño’ since I was 14. It doesn’t really bother me, but wouldn’t it be more normal to call me Sergio?”

Guess what? After he holed the winning putt on Sunday, the Augusta crowd chanted “Sergio! Sergio! Sergio!”

In a golfing sense, “El Niño” had graduated to “El Hombre”, having joined his heroes Seve and Jose Maria Olazabal as Masters champions…

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