Masters winner Sergio Garcia amazed by reaction

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Sergio Garcia is amazed at the reaction he has received from his peers in the aftermath of his victory last month at the Masters, his first major title that came in his 18th year as a pro.

“They’ve been so happy for me to get my first major and win the Masters,” Garcia said Wednesday at TPC Sawgrass, where he returns to competitive golf for the first time at the Players Championship, which begins Thursday.

“That, to me, shows a lot. It shows me how much my fellow players respect me and care about me,” Garcia said. “It’s something that you can’t really fake, so that’s awesome.”

There have been numerous examples, Garcia, 37, said, but he gave one from this week on the driving range when he encountered fellow tour player Shawn Stefani.

“We have a great relationship, but we don’t see each other that much, and he’s a big man,” Garcia said. “He gave me the biggest hug and I felt like a little piece of — like a branch or something on him. It’s been very touching.”

Garcia has at times had a prickly relationship with some of his peers, perhaps the best example being Padraig Harrington, who in the aftermath of Garcia’s victory described him as being “a very sore loser. And he continued to be a very sore loser,” in the aftermath of their battles a decade ago at the 2007 Open and 2008 PGA Championship — both Harrington victories. The two cleared the air last month at Rory McIlroy’s wedding in Ireland.

“I think everybody makes more than what it is,” Garcia said. “I think at the end of the day, we both respect each other. We’ve had our differences here and there, but we had great talks at the Ryder Cup and also at Rory’s wedding. He was trying to apologize for something he said on Sunday, and I was like, it’s fine. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t bother me at all. We’re fine.”

Before his Masters victory, Garcia had played in 70 major championships as a pro, with 19 top-10 finishes.

Asked to descride the coolest thing he’s done with the green jacket since winning, the Spanish golfer cited the soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona last month in Spain, where he took part in the ceremonial pre-event kickoff.

“That was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing cheers, 15,000, 20,000 people chanting my name at Augusta, Ryder Cups, British Open and it’s unbelievable.

“But to walk on what I think is the best stadium in the world, soccer stadium in the world at Bernabeu and in El Clasico against Barcelona and to have 90,000 people chanting your name, that was extremely special. And I was nervous. And I was only kicking the ball 15 yards.”

Garcia is playing in his 18th consecutive Players Championship, where he won in 2008, lost in a playoff in 2015 and has three other top-5 finishes.

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