Garcia Struggles to Solve Woods Mystery

By Associated PressJuly 22, 2006, 4:00 pm
135th Open Championship HOYLAKE, England -- The waggles are gone, and anyone who has ever watched Sergio Garcia play should be grateful for that. Garcia should be, too, because one burden is enough for him to lug around Royal Liverpool in the final round of the British Open.
Waggles, he can fix. He's fixed them so well that he didn't flinch once before hitting a 9-iron into the cup on the second hole Saturday on his way to a 65 that left him just a shot off the lead.
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia has reason to smile after a course-tying record 7-under 65.
Unfortunately for Garcia, that lead is held by a guy who will be wearing a red shirt alongside him in the final group on Sunday. And so far Garcia doesn't seem to have a clue about what to do about fixing his problems with Tiger Woods.
If he's going to win his first major, he better figure it out quick. If Garcia doesn't, it may be a long time before he has a chance this good.
Whether Garcia sensed that after vaulting into contention with a 29 on the front side in the third round was hard to say. He was hustled in and out of the interview area in less time than it would have taken him to hit a shot in his days as a waggler.
But maybe it was better that way. Maybe he didn't want to be reminded that any road to stardom in golf always figured to go through Woods.
And surely he didn't want to be told once again that no one figured it would take this long.
'I'm looking forward to it,' Garcia said. 'I did what I had to do to give myself a chance.'
Against Woods, that's not enough. When he has the lead after the third round in major championships, he wins.
Not just sometimes. Always.
He did it in 1999 when he won the PGA Championship even as a 19-year-old with the nickname El Nino pranced his way down the fairway and pointed a putter at him to let Woods know the game was on.
And he did it at the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002 when Garcia obediently picked up a divot Woods made on the third hole, and then just as obediently folded his game up
Garcia might have had an excuse for that one. He likely had been up much of the night writing Woods a letter of apology for suggesting that because he was Tiger he got all the preferential tee times.
That didn't exactly endear Garcia to Woods, whose relationship with the Spaniard is frosty at best. Garcia didn't help his cause when he pouted after a 66 in the Masters a few years ago that everyone was following Woods and that maybe other players should get more respect.
And when Garcia acted like had just won the, well, British Open, after beating Woods in a made-for-television event, that was pretty much it.
Woods, of course, wouldn't let on to that after the third round, allowing that Garcia must have played a fine round to shoot 65 and that it would be a fine day Sunday on the links. That's the way Woods talks in public, even when he has a lot more to say behind closed doors.
Woods, you see, has a long memory when it comes to making amends. And he has his own way of dealing with people he feels have slighted him.
Just ask Stephen Ames, who Woods trounced 9 and 8 in the Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year after Ames suggested he had a good chance to win because Woods was spraying the ball off the tee.
Woods, of course, has more to worry about than Garcia. Chris DiMarco and Ernie Els are also both a stroke back, and Jim Furyk is only two behind on a course where there are plenty of birdies for the making.
And those three 3-putts on the back nine Saturday had to leave him feeling a bit uncomfortable.
'It's not just Sergio and myself,' he said. 'There are a bunch of guys up there.'
Still, this could get personal, and it could get ugly. Garcia had a deer-in-the-headlights look the last time the two played together in the final round at Bethpage four years ago, and though he has proven himself able to close the deal in six PGA Tour wins, they haven't been with Woods in contention.
Luckily for Garcia, this isn't Bethpage, where the New York fans taunted him with yells of 'whiner' and 'waggle boy,' and counted loudly as he waggled his way around the course. British Open fans are reserved to a fault, greeting almost everything with polite applause or muted shouts of encouragement.
Garcia will need all the encouragement he can get. The pressure is on for him to finally achieve the high expectations thrust on him from the time he first played the Open as a 16-year-old amateur. The pressure to beat Woods will be even greater.
If Garcia can stand up to both, he has a chance to finally call himself a major champion.
If not, he may find himself chasing after Woods the rest of his career.
Related Links:
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  • Full Coverage - 135th Open Championship
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  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    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 a trip to Augusta.

    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).

    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.

    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.