Garcia Back Seeking Elusive Major

By Associated PressAugust 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill ' Back at the site of one of his greatest moments, Sergio Garcia couldnt resist the urge: He just had to visit that tree.
 
So earlier this week, he walked over to the oak on the 16th hole at Medinah Country Club and found the spot where he unleashed that memorable shot seven years ago.
 
I remember three or four weeks ago, before coming in here, they were telling me that the tree was struggling a little bit and theyve had to overseed that little spot because everybodys been hitting from it, Garcia said Wednesday. It definitely looks a little different than it was seven years ago.
 
One thing that hasnt changed: Garcia is still seeking his first victory at a major, and he hopes to fix that this week when the PGA Championship returns to Medinah.
 
If I think about it realistically, I think its a good career so far, the 26-year-old said.
 
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia preps for the PGA Championship under the watchful eye of his father Victor.
Back in 99, Garcia was a 19-year-old phenom playing in only his second major as a pro. He led after the first day, was two back going into the last round, but fell behind by as many as five shots before making his charge.
 
Down two strokes to Tiger Woods, Garcias chances seemed dead when his tee shot on 16 sailed to the right and settled at a knot of tree roots. Then came the signature shot of the tournament, and a reaction that showed his age.
 
He grabbed a 6-iron and ripped a sweeping fade with his eyes shut. As the ball sailed toward the green, Garcia broke into a full sprint and did a scissors kick at the top of the hill, straining to see where the ball landed.
 
It was definitely one of the best shots of my career, he said. It was just short of what I wanted, but it was definitely one of the best shots Ive hit.
 
Woods had just approached the 16th tee and wasnt really paying attention until he saw Garcias mad dash.
 
At that point, Woods figured the shot was either really good or really bad. Then, he heard the crowd roar and knew the pressure was still on.
 
Garcia saved par. Woods hung on to win by one stroke, after going 10 majors without a victory.
 
The anticipated rivalry between the two? Its still anticipated.
 
In the seven years since, Woods has won nine majors to bring his total to 11. Garcia is 0-for-29, with 11 top-10 finishes as a pro.
 
Hes come close on several occasions, and its just a matter of doing the right things at the right time, Woods said. But hes put himself there. You put yourself there enough times, youre going to get it done. Probably, theres no better example of that than Phil (Mickelson) right now.
 
Mickelson was about two months shy of his 34th birthday when he broke through and won the 2004 Masters. He took last years PGA Championship and won again at Augusta this year.
 
Its nice that I was able to pass the mantle to somebody, Mickelson joked. Im sorry he has to take it over.
 
Garcia has six victories on the PGA TOUR and has led Europe to two Ryder Cup wins despite a suspect putting game. But if greatness is defined by majors, Garcia still is trying to find it. The path winds by Woods.
 
The two were matched in the final round of this years British Open at Hoylake, with Woods holding a one-stroke lead. Garcia dropped out of contention with bogeys on four of the first nine holes, and finished tied for fifth. Woods won the title.
 
They were paired for the last round of the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, though Garcia was four strokes behind. Woods won that one, too.
 
Youre only thinking about one guy that has done something unbelievable, very difficult to repeat, and you expect everybody else to do the same, Garcia said. Its not easy to go out there and win a major when youre young and even when youre in your 20s. You know, Tiger has been able to do that plenty of times, and you expect everybody else to do the same.
 
Woods feels fortunate that he won his first major early on and doused those questions. Now, Garcia is back at Medinah, back at the site of that great moment.
 
He stepped back in time this week. Now, hell try to take a big leap forward.
 
Its just a matter of keep putting yourself in that position, keep learning about it, keep going through the emotions (that) go around at that certain time, and feel more and more comfortable when youre in that position, Garcia said.
 
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.