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Wednesday, 21 November, 2018

Super Sergio hunting further Major glory after Masters joy

US Open next challenge for Spanish hero

Sergio Garcia celebrates during the Green Jacket ceremony
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Sergio Garcia is available at 1,000-1 for the Grand Slam after finally winning his first Major title in the Masters at Augusta on Sunday.

Garcia got over the line in front in a Major at the 74th attempt, seeing off Justin Rose in a tense playoff, and the champion is expected to go from strength to strength with his lifelong dream fulfilled.

Garcia started contending in Majors almost 18 years ago, finishing second to Tiger Woods in the 1999 USPGA Championship, and he posted 22 Major top-ten finishes before his emotional breakthrough at the age of 37 in Georgia. No longer is the former world number two the best player never to have won a Major.

With relief coursing through his veins, Garcia should approach Majors in a more relaxed frame of mind for the rest of his career, starting with the US Open in June. That tournament will be staged in Wisconsin for the first time, with Erin Hills the venue, and Garcia is no bigger than 25-1 for back-to-back Major glory.

Garcia's Masters record was poor for a player of his stature prior to this week – his form figures were 38-40-MC-8-28-4-MC-46-MC-MC-38-45-35-12-8-MC-17-34 – and other Majors have traditionally suited him better. The Spaniard's precision always makes him someone to consider in the US Open, while the Open Championship is one of his favourite events.

Garcia can boast ten top-ten finishes in the Open Championship in the last 16 years, finishing second, sixth and fifth in the last three Opens. He can be backed at a best-price 20-1 for the Open and is likely to be a warm order, but his only professional start at Royal Birkdale, the venue in July, saw him finish tied for 51st place.

Garcia will almost certainly have Dustin Johnson to worry about at Erin Hills and Birkdale. Johnson, who missed the Masters with a back injury, is favourite for the US Open and Open. Rory McIlroy tops the market for the USPGA because it will be staged at Quail Hollow, a course he has previously destroyed in the Wells Fargo Championship.

Prices have been trickling out for next year's Masters and early-bird punters may want to consider Thomas Pieters and Justin Thomas, who are both around the 40-1 mark. Pieters and Thomas have quickly proven themselves able to handle Augusta and are world-class youngsters open to improvement over the next 12 months.

Bookmakers reacted to Garcia's Masters triumph with mixed feelings. There were several other players who represented much bigger liabilities, but the popularity of the Ryder Cup star means he is always subject to support for Majors. Punters who kept faith with super Sergio, who was a general 40-1 chance before the tournament, got overdue reward.

“Sergio is always popular,” said Hills spokesman Rupert Adams. “And considering how many near-misses he's had, he might just have the most loyal following in golf. It is about time they collected.”

Bet365's Steve Freeth said: “With Dustin Johnson’s injury and eight places up for grabs, it felt like a stairway to heaven for each-way punters, but the final leaderboard looked a lot healthier for us than it did on Saturday night.

“Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler finishing out of the frame, and the well-punted Hideki Matsuyama also unable to trouble the judge, was pleasing. The final round became uncompetitive quickly, with it becoming a two-runner book, and although Rose touched 1-8 when Garcia was in the bushes on the 13th hole, there was still belief in Garcia.”

Ladbrokes spokesman Alex Donohue summed up the mood of the laying industry as a whole when he said: “Not as terrible as it could have been. We've lost a six-figure sum, but despite his popularity, Garcia was the least-bad of the top four in the market going into the final round. Turnover was through the roof, so that has to be positive for the long term.”

Coral's David Stevens said: “Punters kept faith with Garcia despite his long wait for a first Major triumph, and Rose is always a popular choice, so we knew our fate heading into the playoff. Although a Rose victory would have been even more costly, we've still been left with a substantial six-figure hit on the Spaniard, and paying seven places online meant that McIlroy each-way backers also collected.”

McIlroy's wait for a career Grand Slam continues. The Northern Irishman, who posted his third Masters top-ten finish in a row on Sunday, is 9-4 with BoyleSports to win any of the remaining 2017 Majors.

BoyleSports gave money back as a free bet on Rose, Charl Schwartzel, Matt Kuchar and Thomas Pieters, having pledged to refund on those who finished second, third or fourth (including ties).

Bet365 – S Garcia 2017 Major wins: 1-7 one, 4 two, 40 three, 1,000-1 four.

BoyleSports – R McIlroy to win a Major in 2017: 1-3 no, 9-4 yes.

Don't miss Steve Palmer's previews of the Hassan Trophy and RCB Heritage in Wednesday's Racing Post

With relief coursing through his veins, Garcia should approach Majors in a more relaxed frame of mind for the rest of his career
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