Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2017, 7:23 pm

The first half of Masters week was about who was absent.

Tiger Woods made a brief appearance at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, then disappeared so quickly it was hard to be certain he had actually been there.

On Thursday morning, Arnold Palmer’s spirit was very much present during the opening ceremony, but the tears shed by both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as they hit their tee shots were a reminder that the Masters would have go on without him.

And then, a few hours later, came the news that the world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, wasn’t going to make it off the first tee, the victim of a fluke accident – a slip on the steps of his rented house that wrenched his back.

And so, it was left to the other 93 players to go about making history, because when the dust clears on Masters Sunday every year, someone makes history.

A year ago, it was Danny Willett, blowing past the faltering Jordan Spieth to become a Masters champion. Willett culminated a difficult 12 months since he slipped on the green jacket by beginning the tournament 6-6 on Thursday, then opened his second round with a quadruple bogey-8 on the first hole and missed the cut by a shot.

Charley Hoffman was the star the first day, shooting a miraculous 65 on a day when the scoring average was just over 75, giving him a startling four-shot lead on the field.



By Friday, Hoffman had come back to the pack and a name popped up on the leaderboard that raised eyebrows and produced murmurs and questions that had been heard often in the past: Sergio Garcia.

Bill Clinton was president in 1999 when Garcia barged onto the golf scene at age 19. He was low amateur at the Masters that year and got to share the stage during the awards ceremony with one of his boyhood heroes, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won his second Masters that year.

Four months later, as a brand new pro, he chased Tiger Woods to the finish line in the PGA Championship. A little more than a month later, he became the youngest player in Ryder Cup history and played very well the first two days as Europe built the 10-6 lead that the Americans would overcome on Sunday.

He was El Nino – the boy – and he was going to be Woods’ challenger in the 21st century. He was the Spanish successor to the legacy of Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that. Garcia was a very good player but he never lived up to the potential he had flashed as a teenager. He won on the PGA Tour; he won in Europe and around the world. He was a superb Ryder Cup player, part of five winning teams.

But the majors eluded him. He came close, barely missing a 7-foot putt at Carnoustie that would have won The Open, before losing a playoff to Pardraig Harrington. A year later, at Oakland Hills, Harrington caught him from behind to beat him at the PGA Championship. In all there were 22 top-10 finishes, but no victories. He had a Hall of Fame resume with one massive, glaring hole.

He wore the label, Best Player Never to Have Won a Major, for a while and then lost it when his game went south – notably in 2010 when he took a break from playing because he was so discouraged. He went to the Ryder Cup that year as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains, a week that turned out to be a crucial moment in his career.

“It made me realize how lucky I had been to play in so many Ryder Cups,” he said one evening last year. “It reminded me how much I loved golf, how much I enjoyed competing. I was still young – I had only just turned 30. I knew there was time for me to play well again.”

The most important part of Garcia’s epiphany during that week in Wales was realizing he’d been lucky. He had never thought that way in the past. There had always been a woe-is-me side to him, in spite of all the money he’d made; the relationships he’d had with glamorous women; the victories he’d had through the years.

That changed, not all at once, but gradually. Two years later, after a bad day at the Masters, he told reporters he didn’t think he had what it took to win a major. It was a startling comment, especially since, at 32, he was a year younger than Phil Mickelson had been when he broke through at Augusta; two years younger than Ben Hogan had been when he won his first major. At that point, many figured that the time for Garcia to win a major had passed.

There was one more low moment, the foolishly insensitive comment about Woods and fried chicken during a European Tour dinner the week after he and Woods had traded barbs at The Players Championship. The two men never liked one another – some of it was competitive, but much of it was personal.

“That was a low moment,” Garcia said. “A lot of it was because I was the one at fault. Tiger and I just never hit it off. We’re very different people. But that wasn’t an excuse for me to say something like that.”

The fact that Garcia could point the finger at himself three years later was a sign of his maturation.

He talked last Friday about how he had finally learned to accept the good and the bad on the golf course, especially at Augusta, a place that will take away just as quickly as it gives.

On Sunday, Ballesteros’s 60th birthday, Garcia backed up those comments. By the time he and Justin Rose got to the 10th tee, it was almost a certainty that one of them was going to be the Masters champion. Garcia promptly went bogey-bogey to drop two shots behind and then smacked his tee shot on 13 off a tree and into a bush, where he had to take a drop.

At that moment, it looked as if Rose might stroll to his second major title. He was in the fairway, in prime position to make birdie. Garcia had to layup with his third shot. Somehow, he got up and down for par. Somehow, Rose failed to make birdie, missing a 6-foot putt. What could have been a three- or four-shot lead was still only two.

Given life, Garcia responded as he had never responded in the past: two great shots led to a birdie at 14; two more great ones led to an eagle at 15. Suddenly, it was a tie ballgame and it stayed that way through 18, both men missing makeable putts as the pressure built.

One might have thought Garcia had again missed his chance when his 6-foot birdie putt at 18 slid right. But Rose gave him an opening with a wayward tee shot on the first playoff hole and this time Garcia’s birdie putt – when all he needed was a two-putt – found the hole and his knees buckled in disbelief. Eighteen years later, El Nino had finally grown up to be a major champion.

It was a victory greeted with cheers by virtually everyone in golf. Even Rose, as gracious in defeat as anyone could be, talked about how happy he was for Garcia.

Now, the Hall of Fame resume is complete. Now, there will be no more questions about not winning a major, about what might have been.

Last fall, after hearing chants of “no majors” throughout the weekend at Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup, Garcia said he hoped to be on the European Ryder Cup team in 2020 at Whistling Straits so he might hear a different chant.

“I’d like to hear them chant, ‘one major,’ or maybe ‘two majors,’” he said, laughing. “At the very least, I’d like one.”

He’s got it now. One major, no chants. Few have deserved a victory more.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.