Inspired by Seve, Garcia joins Spain's greatest generation

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Drawing strength from Spain's greatest golfers, Sergio Garcia finally managed to win a major.

The winning putt swirled into the cup on the first playoff hole, giving ''El Nino'' a Masters green jacket and giving the country's golden generation of sports stars a new life.

The congratulations rolled in, led by a telegram from Spanish King Felipe VI saying ''your achievement is a spectacular triumph for Spanish golf.'' Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy marked the occasion on Twitter.

''Sergio Garcia makes history at the Masters, winning the green jacket,'' Rajoy wrote. ''Amazing! Pride of Spanish sports.''

But the most important message Garcia received may have come before he took his first swing. Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, told the 37-year-old Garcia on the eve of the tournament to ''be calm and not let things get to me as I had in the past.''

Those words of wisdom set him on his way. And it was Spain's true master of the clubs that brought him home.

Garcia said he thought of the late Seve Ballesteros while overcoming setbacks that would have derailed his less confident self. It seems to have worked because Garcia overturned a two-shot deficit against Justin Rose to win on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

Ballesteros became the first European to win the Masters in 1980. He left a lasting mark on golf, and a huge legacy for Garcia to emulate.

''He definitely popped in my mind a few times, there is no doubt about it,'' Garcia said of Ballesteros, who died in 2011 of complications resulting from a cancerous brain tumor. ''And I'm sure he helped a little bit with some of those shots, some of those putts.''

Fittingly, Ballesteros would have turned 60 on Sunday.

''It's amazing to do it on Seve's 60th birthday and to join him and Olazabal, my two idols in golf,'' Garcia said.

Seve's son, Javier Ballesteros, sent out his support for Garcia before the final round. After he won, the Seve Ballesteros Foundation wrote in a tweet, ''We are all sure Seve pushed you from above!''

In a testament to what it meant back home, Garcia's triumph displaced Real Madrid and Barcelona on the front pages of two sports dailies, a feat almost as amazing as donning the green jacket in this soccer-crazed country.

''AT LAST!'' declared Marca's front page, while El Mundo Deportivo proclaimed him ''MAESTRO.''

Garcia's vindication not only redefined his career, it comes while Spain deals with the fading of the athletes who have put the country at the forefront of the world of sport for the past decade.

Tennis star Rafael Nadal has been diminished by injuries, soccer players Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez are near the end, Pau Gasol is no longer a major force in the NBA, Alberto Contador has lost the title of Tour de France favorite, and Formula One driver Fernando Alonso looks downright miserable in his broken McLaren.

Perhaps that is why several of them chimed in to praise Garcia's achievement.

''So exciting after fighting so hard for so many years!'' Nadal wrote on Twitter. ''Congratulations! What joy!''

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