For Sergio Sundays Collapse a Stunning Turnaround
He was even more confident at his day job, building a six-shot lead at Quail Hollow going into the final round, certain that his struggles with the putter were almost over and his best golf was just around the corner.
All that changed in 19 holes.
Garcia made history for the wrong reason Sunday, matching the largest final-round collapse in PGA Tour history before making an early exit from the three-man playoff by missing a 6-foot par putt that never had a chance.
There was quiet shock in his voice, a numb expression on his freckled face as he spoke to a room full of reporters. He stared at his feet, looking up occasionally to answer a question or to glance at the television to see Vijay Singh outlast Jim Furyk on the fourth extra hole and claim a trophy everyone figured would belong to Garcia.
'It's one of those things,' Garcia said, a phrase he repeated five times in 10 minutes.
Garcia is only 25, way too young for this to be any kind of fork in a career long saddled with high expectations. The spotlight won't leave any time soon, because he is the defending champion at this week's Byron Nelson Championship.
'I've got to just relax until Thursday and get everything back in shape, and take the positives out of this week,' Garcia said. 'They say you learn more from your losses than from your wins. And I've got a lot from this week to learn.'
The positives aren't too hard to find.
No one hit the ball better at Quail Hollow, where the fairways were as crusty and firm as they have been anywhere this year on the PGA Tour. Garcia moved his ball with a slight draw or a gentle fade, whatever the hole required.
And while he joined four others in the record books for losing a six-shot lead in the final round - Greg Norman was the most recent at the 1996 Masters - Garcia was the only one who didn't shoot over par.
He shot an even-par 72, on a day where Singh and Furyk each closed with 66.
'He didn't play badly,' Singh said. 'He didn't shoot a high number or anything. We caught him. He's going to feel it a little bit, but not as bad as what Greg did during the Masters.'
It wasn't as bad as Bobby Cruikshank shooting an 80 to lose the 1928 Florida Open, or Hal Sutton closing with a 77 in the 1983 Anheuser-Busch Classic. The other player to blow a six-shot lead in the final round was Gay Brewer, who closed with a 73 in the 1969 Danny Thomas Diplomat Classic to pave the way for a Sunday charge by Arnold Palmer.
Norman closed with a 78 at Augusta National, turning a six-shot lead into a five-shot loss in a tournament that became a defining moment in his career.
Singh doesn't expect that to be the case with Garcia.
'Sometimes it's harder to play with a big lead,' Singh said. 'I've found that out myself. Instead of trying to win the golf tournament, you don't want to lose it. If guys are catching up ... you kind of start to get nervous.'
Garcia showed that on the first hole.
After running a slippery 8-footer for birdie some 30 inches by the cup, he decided to finish off the hole even though Furyk had an 6-footer for par. Garcia's simple par putt caught the lip.
'I think he just lost concentration,' Furyk said.
Then came an 8-foot birdie on the second hole that missed. He asked his caddie, Glenn Murray, to help read a 10-foot birdie putt on the fourth, but that didn't help. He missed another 10-footer for birdie on the fifth.
'I played awesome the first eight holes,' Garcia said. 'I should have been easily 3 or 4 under, and I was 1 (under). It was tough. To see that you hit it to 10 feet every time and you can't make a putt ... you know, it cost me.'
And even after Singh flubbed a chip that turned birdie into bogey on the par-5 15th, falling into a tie with Garcia, the Spaniard blew a chance to take control of the tournament. From 250 yards in the fairway, his 2-iron on the 15th stopped 6 feet from the hole. Garcia missed that putt, too, and had to settle for birdie.
Singh tried to cut through the tension during the first hole of the playoff, when all three players had the cup surrounded with testy par putts, ranging from Garcia at 6 feet to Furyk at just over 4 feet.
'I told the guys, 'Good, good, good. Let's go to the next tee box,'' Singh said.
They all laughed, although it was uneasy laughter from Garcia.
By the then, the fearless confidence was gone.
And after the putt slid below the cup, so was the tournament.
Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back
SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.
Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.
Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim.
Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.
Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026
SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.
“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.
“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.
In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010.
Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday
SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.
“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”
So was Woods.
DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.
“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”
Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.
“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.
“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”
Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.
“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.
“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”
Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.
With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.