Garcia adjusts attitude, changes public perception

By Jason SobelAugust 6, 2014, 4:00 pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Golf’s most tortured soul has endured enough torment lately to send him screaming to the asylum. Runner-up finishes in each of his last three PGA Tour starts should have him scratching at the padded walls, muttering uncontrollably about what could have been.

Instead, he smiles and says this: “I try to always look at the positive side.”

If anyone has seen The Golfer Formerly Known as Sergio Garcia, please return him to the nearest major championship immediately.

On second thought, forget it. We like this guy better.

This can’t be the same Sergio who has spent the majority of his professional career whining about bad breaks and making excuses for himself.

It can’t be the same Sergio who once flipped a middle finger to fans at Bethpage Black for heckling his impulsive waggles. Or the one who once spit into the cup after missing a putt. Or the one who once blamed the imperious golf gods for not winning a major.

And yet, here he is on the eve of the PGA Championship, fresh off a few heartbreaking losses, drinking from a glass half-full while admiring the silver linings.

“Finishing second is not the greatest, but only the guy that loses is the one that has a chance of winning,” he explains. “I'd rather finish second and lose than be 50th and not have a chance.”

Sergio sounds like the byproduct of a Deepak Chopra-Bob Rotella revival, but maintains about any mental guruism, “I've never really believed in it.”

He does believe in his personal contentment. When he’s happy, he’s confident; when he’s confident, he plays better; when he plays better, he’s happy.

These days, his world keeps spinning ’round and ’round.

Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than the transformation in his disposition is the general reaction to his image.

Just over a year ago, Garcia was Public Enemy No. 1 following racially-tinged comments about Tiger Woods and a fried chicken dinner. Without much of an emphasis on public relations – he never sat down on Dr. Phil’s couch for a good cry or whatever it is that apologetic celebrities do these days – his reputation has been restored to beyond its previous default setting.

Instead of the intolerant malcontent, he’s swiftly become viewed as a lovable loser; instead of drawing ire, he’s drawing sympathy.

All with good reason, of course. Just last week, he pulled a tee shot into the left gallery on the third hole at Firestone during the final round. His ball knocked the diamond out of a woman’s engagement ring, and a search ensued in the rough.

The old Sergio might have blamed her for getting in the way of his tee shot, maybe even used the time spent looking for the diamond as an excuse for why he didn't win.

This guy, though, this new and improved version of the man, asked for her phone number and promised to purchase a new diamond if it wasn’t found. You could almost feel the collective support shift in his favor.

The reality is that Garcia has plenty to be curmudgeonly about. The first half of his career was shrouded in the Tiger Woods Era, the game’s biggest star piling up major trophies while its biggest enigma underwent various metamorphoses of maturity. The second half of his career appears set to be ensconced in the Rory McIlroy Era, of which Garcia has already gotten a strong whiff, finishing second to him at each of his last two events.

And yet, he appears comfortable in the knowledge that there remain situations beyond his control. The middle fingers and spitting and whining have been replaced by thoughtful contemplation.

“So many things happen in your life and happen in golf where you feel maybe that you should have gotten something better, so why look at it that way?” he says. “Just try to enjoy the good moments as much as possible.”

As it turns out, time is a hell of an antidote to immaturity. Sergio has realized this already and now the rest of us are starting to realize it about him.

Golf’s most tortured soul is grinning and laughing and nonchalantly whistling a happy tune.

“I just want to play as well as I can,” he says with yet another smile. “The future will tell me where I should end up.”

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.