Story 7 The Rise of Sergio

By December 17, 2008, 5:00 pm

Isn't it somewhat ironic that Sergio Garcia now sits squarely between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the world rankings?

 

Back in 1999, Sergio was locked in a duel with Tiger at Medinah with the PGA Championship hanging in the balance. Tiger, of course, won the battle that day, but in the process 'El Niño' was officially anointed as the next 'can't miss golf superstar.' The next Tiger, if you will.

 

He was just a baby-faced 19-year-old who would no doubt follow in the glorious footsteps of fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. He was fast tracked to superstardom – major championships simply a matter of when and not if.

 

Fast-forward nine years to 2008 and Sergio is still without a major championship to his name – a name that, much like Tiger, doesn't require a surname to be recognized. Over that time, however, there have been quite a few close calls as well as some strange twists of fate: 54-hole leads vanishing into thin air, frightening canary-colored outfits, rugs pulled out from under him, and, of course this year, best friend (wink, wink) Padraig Harrington ripping another major from his grasp.

 

This, paradoxically, is much like the career path of Mickelson, the man he just passed in the world rankings. 'Lefty', now the owner of three majors, was for a long time famously – or infamously – known as the ‘best player to never win a major.’ He had all the talent in the world, but was seemingly at odds with the golfing gods. Sergio, too, looks as if he has inherited Mickelson’s all-you-can-ride rollercoaster pass, enough to cause a mere mortal to disappear from the planet. His 2008 season being a perfect example:

 

  • A huge win at The Players, and although not technically a major, it's called the ‘fifth major.’ Said Sergio following the win: “It feels like a major, and it tests you like a major. I’m so thrilled to be here standing with the trophy.”

     
  • A heartbreaking loss at the PGA Championship, where Harrington put on one of the greatest displays of clutch putting in major championship history. Afterwards, Sergio didn’t endear himself to many fans, seemingly blaming those fateful golf gods for his defeat: “They get in contention in a major and manage to get things going their way…and unfortunately, it hasn’t happened to me.”

     
  • Closes out his PGA Tour season in superb fashion, finishing in the top 5 in three of the four FedEx Cup Playoff events, including a pair of second-place finishes. In the process, he wraps up the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on Tour, an honor won by Tiger in eight of the previous nine years.

     
  • Gets waxed by Anthony Kim in the opening Sunday singles match at Valhalla, which set the tone for the day and gives the U.S. squad a long overdue victory.

     
  • Saddled with the ongoing saga of idol Ballesteros battling a brain tumor, he won an event hosted by he and his father, the Castello Masters, on the course he grew up playing. “I couldn’t help but think about Seve. I’m sending all my love to him and his family and hope he recovers soon. I hope this victory helps him to get a little better,” he said.

     
  • Wins the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the first event in the inaugural ‘Race to Dubai.’ In the process, supplants Mickelson as the No. 2 player in the world. 'Being No. 2 is awesome,” Sergio said. “I have never achieved it before. It is something extra for the year.'

     

    And now with his rise to the No. 2 ranking in the world, Sergio is unanimously the best player to never win a major. And it is not lost on the Spaniard: “I have been trying for a while (to get to No. 2), but winning a major is the next goal.”

     

    In a sport often criticized for the lack of personalities, Sergio, burns bright – although many times that brightness is not cast in the most forgiving light. No person, aside from Tiger, produced more drama than Sergio in 2008.

     

    And in the era of Tiger Woods, being No. 2 is like being No. 1. Kinda like The Players being the ‘fifth major.’

     

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    McIlroy 'happy to be back', can 'empathize' with Tiger

    By Associated PressJanuary 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

    ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – After a long layoff from golf, Rory McIlroy has some newfound sympathy for Tiger Woods.

    The 28-year-old Northern Irishman is making a comeback at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after ending his season early last year. He has not played a round since the final day of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship on Oct. 8.

    McIlroy, a four-time major champion who has slipped to No. 11 in the world rankings, last won the Tour Championship on the PGA Tour in September 2016. He injured a rib in his first outing of 2017 – at the South African Open – and felt its after-effects throughout the year.

    McIlroy, who has seven top-five finishes in his last eight starts in Abu Dhabi, said Tuesday he felt mentally low because of his physical issues.

    ''Honestly, I was excited to be done. I could have shut it down after the PGA Championship very easily and taken the rest of the year off, but I didn't. I played six events after that, played OK and had a chance to win one of them,'' McIlroy said. ''But I was just excited to take that time off and get myself just sort of a re-set.''

    Last week, McIlroy also revealed that he has a minor, non-threatening heart condition that needs regular check-ups.

    ''After that 3-plus months of a re-set, I'm very happy to be back. I felt like I needed it physically and mentally. I just felt like it was a little bit of a sabbatical. I've been out here for 10 years, and I want to get ready for the next 10.''

    McIlroy compared his situation to what Woods has been going through.

    ''I've only been through, maybe, not even 5 percent of what he's had to go through. And you can tell from where he was to where he is now mentally, because of physically where he is ... he's a totally different person,'' McIlroy said. ''Of course, I empathize with him, and I know he was in a dark place there for a while. It's just so great to see him out of that and back and excited to be playing golf again.''

    The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship will be the first of back-to-back events for McIlroy, who is also playing next week in Dubai.

    ''I think the next two weeks will be a big learning curve, just to see where I'm at,'' McIlroy said. ''I'm obviously coming into the events trying to play as well as I can and trying to compete and trying to win, but I think there will definitely be things I'll have to work on going into that stretch in the States.''

    The tournament, which starts Thursday, has attracted some big names, including top-ranked Dustin Johnson, No. 6 Justin Rose, No. 9 Henrik Stenson, No. 14 Paul Casey and No. 15 Matt Kuchar. No. 18 Tommy Fleetwood is the defending champion.

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    Pre-tourney caution be damned: Stenson rides camel

    By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 3:29 pm

    If you were under the impression Henrik Stenson's days of engaging in pre-tournament hijinks at HSBC-sponsored events were over, then you don't know the Swedish Superman.

    Ahead of this week's HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the 2016 champion golfer of the year decided to have some fun riding (and pretend-spanking) a camel:

    If you can't imagine any reason Stenson wouldn't get on a camel, we will point you to the WGC-HSBC Champions back in October, when Stenson, Dustin Johnson, Haotong Li and Hideki Matsuyama took place in this hire-wire act:

    Two weeks later, Stenson revealed a rib injury, and a report from the U.K.'s Telegraph stated "that not only was the Shanghai caper to blame, but that Stenson is annoyed about being persuaded to do it in the first place."

    Stenson brushed back at that report in this Instagram post, saying that his "comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal."

    I’m disappointed to have to pre-emptively withdraw from the Nedbank Golf Challenge Hosted by Gary Player, I was looking forward to this important year-end event on the European Tour. At this point I am back home in Orlando waiting to do a scan on my ribs and get the necessary rest. I am still hoping for a quick recovery and have not ruled out playing in Dubai next week at this point. My comment about not being Superman was a sarcastic way of saying that I am susceptible to injury like any other athlete and sometimes these things happen when you least expect them. I was pleased to help promote the HSBC Champions and to continue my string of success at the event and I was never forced to do anything. HSBC is a great sponsor to golf worldwide and I am not happy to see them being made responsible for my withdrawal. The plan as of now will be to participate in the DP World Championship if my body is back to 100%. H

    A post shared by Henrik Stenson (@henrikstenson) on

    And it would appear he genuinely meant those comments, at least enough to get on a camel.

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    Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

    Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

    The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

    Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

    “I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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    Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

    Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

    Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.