Garcia Becoming Next Mickelson

By Associated PressAugust 12, 2008, 4:00 pm
2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' Sergio Garcia packed his bags and headed for the parking lot at Oakland Hills, leaving behind another season without a major and facing eight long months until his next opportunity.
The question is how much baggage he carried between the ears.
The PGA Championship was his third runner-up at a major, and it doesnt take much effort to find one moment that could have made all the difference, either a shot by Garcia or by the players who beat him.
Padraig Harrington took only 11 putts on the back nine, including three on the last three holes that were a combined 40 feet. Garcia chunked a chip on the par-5 12th that eliminated an easy birdie when he was leading by two. He hit 6-iron into the water on the 16th with a one-shot lead. And he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 17th that gave Harrington his first lead all day.
Equally painful are memories of a 10-foot par putt last year on the 18th hole at Carnoustie to win the British Open. Garcia missed it by a fraction of an inch, and Harrington went on to win the four-hole playoff.
Even as far back as 1999 at Medinah, when he was a 19-year-old rookie trying to chase down Tiger Woods at the PGA, Garcia must wonder how Woods was able to make an 8-foot par putt at No. 17 on a green so crisp it was like putting on dirt.
Thats what major champions do.
And thats why Garcia isnt a major champion ' at least not yet.
The good news for Garcia is that he has gone only 38 majors without winning one. If its any consolation, Tom Kite was 0-for-63 when he won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and passed on the best to never win a major burden to someone else. And while this wont fall into the consolation category, either, Garcia is the youngest player at 28 to be considered the best player without a major.
Phil Mickelson was 33 when he ended his 0-for-42 record in the majors with an 18-foot birdie putt to win the 2004 Masters. Fred Couples was 32 when he won his only major at the 1992 Masters, Davis Love III was 33 when he finally won a major at the 1997 PGA Championship and Corey Pavin was 36 when he shed the label as best without a major in the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
A major is coming for Garcia. He is simply too talented.
But he also has more to overcome.
Unlike the others who labored longer than they would have liked to win a major, Garcia is saddled with more scar tissue. How he responds to such negative reinforcement will determine how soon ' and how many ' he wins.
Not since Mickelson has a player with so much skill played in so many majors without winning, so they make for natural comparisons.
The positives:
  • Garcia already has played in the final pairing three times in a major, the same number as Mickelson before Lefty won his first.
  • Sunday was the third runner-up for Garcia in a major. Mickelson had three runner-ups before winning his first major.
    The negatives:
  • Mickelson was 29 when he suffered his first major heartache in the 99 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where Payne Stewart beat him with a 15-foot par on the final hole. He was 31 when David Toms beat him with a par on the last hole of 01 PGA Championship.
    Garcia is 28 and already has gone through that twice.
  • Mickelson was always gracious in defeat. The putts that Payne made on 16 and 18 showed what a great champion he is, Mickelson said in 1999 after Stewart rallied to beat him at Pinehurst.
    Garcia still acts as though the world is out to get him.
    The opening question Sunday evening was whether Garcia, three shots clear of Harrington when they made the turn, was thinking that he was finally going to capture his first major.
    Next question, please, Garcia bristled. Lets keep this as positive as we can, please.
    He later suggested that some players ' namely, Harrington ' are more fortunate.
    They get in contention in a major and manage to get things going their way, either because they play well or because somebody else comes back, he said. And unfortunately, it hasnt happened to me. I feel like I played well enough to win probably more than two majors throughout my career.
    One thing Harrington had in his favor was experience and the ability to make putts under pressure.
    No one imagined anyone capable of going 66-66 over the final two rounds at Oakland Hills, although Saturdays rain delay made the greens soft enough to allow such scoring.
    Even so, it was the most clutch putting performance over the final three holes of a major since Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2.
    Stewart was one shot behind on the 16th hole when he made a 25-foot par putt down the hill. Then came the par-3 17th, where he knocked it to 3 feet for birdie to take the lead. And after finding trouble off the tee and choosing to lay up on the 18th, he hit wedge to 15 feet and made the par putt for a dramatic victory.
    His opponent that day was Mickelson, who overcame that to go three straight years winning a major.
    Theres hope for Garcia.
    Related Links:
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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 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 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.