It was a lovely scene. Sergio Garcia, having just clinched the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in his native Spain, bathed in the applause from the huge home crowds, which included his parents and his new wife, Angela Akins, who is expecting their first child.
Joost Luiten, who knows first-hand the pressure and satisfaction of winning titles on home soil, threw everything at his pursuit of Garcia and carded a 66 on Sunday. But the Masters champion was fantastic, as exemplified by an exquisite up and down at 17 that helped him maintain a precious one-shot lead heading to the last hole.
Garcia has now won six times in Spain and there is nothing better than success in your own country. The turn-out to see him win again at Valderrama was a wonderful testament to his popularity and he thrived on it. Nothing will ever be sweeter than his breakthrough Major victory at the Masters earlier this year, but this will be right up there.
The 37-year-old’s third title of a landmark season drew him nearer to Tommy Fleetwood in the Race To Dubai standings but, with Garcia set to sit out the next three European Tour events, he has left the door wide open for the Englishman.
Garcia is now within 800,000 points of Fleetwood and could in theory overhaul him by winning when he returns to action in the season finale, the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, where 1.2m points are available for first place.
But by then Fleetwood could be out of sight. He, Jon Rahm, Ross Fisher and Tyrrell Hatton have the opportunity to pull away from Garcia over the next three weeks. With that in mind, I don’t think Garcia has given himself a chance of winning a first order of merit.
Maybe he will change his mind and add more events to his schedule, but he indicated recently that he was unlikely to do so. Whatever happens, with the Masters, getting married and impending fatherhood, it has already been an extraordinary year for Garcia.
It won’t just be the Race To Dubai on the leading players’ minds over the next few weeks. The last few events carry big Ryder Cup points and the top six – Fleetwood, Garcia, Rahm, Fisher, Hatton and Rafa Cabrera-Bello – are all big contenders for the 2018 European team.
While the pressure on Garcia and Luiten during Sunday was huge, it was arguably even greater on their English playing partner Daniel Brooks, who ensured that he retained his tour card by finishing third.
It was a massive result for him and likewise Jamie Donaldson, who hit the winning shot in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles just three years ago. The Welshman’s fourth place in Spain lifted him just inside the all-important top 101 in the order of merit and meant that he keeps his card too.
Thomas closing in on No1 spot
Garcia wasn’t the only Major champion showing his class at the weekend. US PGA winner Justin Thomas showed that he can triumph anywhere by landing the CJ Cup in South Korea.
World No3 Thomas, who has won six events plus the FedEx Cup in little over a year, is bouncing and is getting ever closer to that No1 ranking.