AKRON, Ohio – For two hours Friday, Sergio Garcia couldn’t miss.
Coming off a runner-up finish at the Open Championship, Garcia made everything in sight on the back nine at Firestone Country Club, scorching the inward half with a score of 8-under 27. The Spaniard birdied eight of the nine holes, ending his round with seven consecutive birdies and 11 straight one-putts.
It all added up to a 9-under 61, which is Garcia’s lowest career round on the PGA Tour and tied the Firestone course record set most recently by Tiger Woods in the second round one year ago.
“It was definitely a dream back nine,” Garcia said. “I just started hitting good shots, rolling the putts in and everything seemed to happen. I was just enjoying it as much as I could.”
After Justin Rose held the top spot on the leaderboard for much of the afternoon, Garcia raced by him with his late flurry of birdies. At 11 under, he will take a three-shot lead over Rose into the weekend as he looks to win his first WGC title.
Garcia’s clinical dissection of the back nine included five birdie putts of more than 13 feet, and he made putts of 25 and 21 feet, respectively, over the final two holes to tie the course record.
A performance like that begs the question – was Garcia in “the zone?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know what ‘the zone’ is,” he said. “The only thing I can tell you is I was feeling very comfortable. I was obviously very calm, and I could see what I wanted to do pretty much almost every shot.”
Garcia is hardly a stranger to long birdie runs. It was only six weeks ago that he was on the other end of such a tear, as Kevin Streelman made seven straight birdies to close out his final round at the Travelers Championship and beat Garcia by a shot.
“When I made the one on 17, I thought, ‘Oh, this kind of looks familiar from what happened not too long ago,” he said. “Obviously, Sunday would be even nicer, but I’ll take what I can get.”
Garcia won earlier this year on the European Tour in Qatar, but his lone PGA Tour title since 2009 came at the 2012 Wyndham Championship. Despite a series of high finishes this season, he realizes the importance of hoisting another trophy by week’s end.
“I know that everybody, when they look at a year, they look at wins,” he said. “I’ve been very close to winning probably two or three tournaments. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened.
“The most important thing for me is to keep getting better and keep putting myself in situations to try to win tournaments. It feels great to be able to do it.”