Garcia happy a year after controversy

By Jason SobelMay 8, 2014, 8:31 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The scowl? Replaced by a buoyant smile. Those three wayward shots that found watery graves? Replaced by six birdies. That depressing final-round score of 76? Replaced by a promising 67.

If there exists an equal and opposite reaction to Sergio Garcia’s finish at last year’s Players Championship, it might have occurred in the opening round of this week’s edition, as he pulled off an impressive reversal of fortune to find himself just four strokes off the lead.

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano has known Garcia for more than two decades, ever since they were 10 years old, and, as he recalls it, his friend was beating everyone else by 10 strokes every week.

He also remembers a more recent time, when Garcia wasn’t having much fun playing the game and he tried to offer some advice.

“He was a bit grumpy on the course, and he never seemed to enjoy what he was doing,” Fernandez-Castano recalled. “I said, ‘Sergio, you do not have to do this if you don't enjoy it. You know what I mean? You're a millionaire; you have a fantastic family, they're all healthy, they love you. You don't have to play golf if you don't have fun.’”

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Last year’s tournament seemed like one of those times. Despite contending for the title, Garcia’s week was a whirlwind of headline-grabbing comments and cringe-inducing shots down the stretch. He questioned third-round playing partner Tiger Woods’ timing in pulling a club from his bag, then later maintained, “I'm not going to lie, he is not my favorite guy to play with. He's not the nicest guy on Tour.” Tied for the lead with two holes to play on Sunday afternoon, Garcia rinsed two shots in the infamous water surrounding the par-3 17th hole and another on the last.

When he finally emerged from the course, Garcia appeared exhausted and battered. He looked like he wanted to crawl inside one of Pete Dye’s fiendish pot bunkers and bury his head.

“You go through up and downs in your life, in your career, and I've had really, really good times, really, really happy times, and then I've had times that were a little bit more down,” he assessed after Thursday’s opening round. “It's just the way of life. I think it happens to all of us.”

These have been happier times. He is head over heels with his new flame, Katharine Boehm. And his golf game has fallen in line, with 13 top-20 finishes in his last 14 worldwide starts, including a pair of victories.

All of which leads to a chicken-or-egg conundrum: Does being happy lead to better golf or does better golf lead to being happy?

“It's a lot more spotty than when you're feeling good,” he said. “Mainly because I think when you're going through a rough patch, you seem to, I wouldn't say give up, but you seem to not fight as hard. Like when you're going through a good time, you make a bogey, and you're like, you're not happy about it, but you're like, let's try to get it back. When you're going through a bad patch, you make a bogey, and it's like, oh, here we go again.

“I don't know, the mind is a beautiful thing.”

Just a few weeks after Garcia told a television crew that he didn’t want to speak about the past, especially last year’s controversies surrounding his comments about Woods, he sat in the interview room at TPC Sawgrass and mowed down all questions like a series of uphill 2-foot putts.

He spoke with honesty and candor, even when Woods’ name was invoked.

“I think it's over,” Garcia said. “I think it's past. I didn't think I was a villain, but I think that we've all moved ahead of that. I certainly have. I'm just looking forward to now and hopefully what's coming soon.”

Yes, these are certainly happier days for him. That scowl has – for now, at least – been replaced by a smile, his place on the leaderboard echoing those emotions.

Garcia is enjoying life and enjoying golf, the two not always dependent on one another, but they certainly can’t hurt. And don’t think that idea hasn’t gotten his attention.

“You've got to try to enjoy those good times as much as possible and learn from the tough ones and hopefully make them as short as possible,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, that's all you can really do.”

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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.