Sergio Ready to Emerge from Shadows

By Mercer BaggsMarch 16, 2005, 5:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. -- This year started with the Big Three. Then it expanded to the Big Four. And because everyone not named Retief Goosen said Retief Goosen should be included, there became the Big Five.
Just on the fringe of the Big However Many stands Sergio Garcia.
Sergio Garcia
Putting may be the one thing keeping Sergio Garcia from being among golf's elite.
Garcia is ranked eighth in the world. Hes about two full points behind Goosen, who stands in fifth place ' and two full majors. And thats about the proper distance between golfs current crop of really good players and the truly elite.
Garcia is good, really good. Hes coming off a season in which he won twice on the PGA Tour, once on the European Tour and went 4-0-1 for a victorious European squad in the Ryder Cup.
Thats an amazing performance, and one he would love to duplicate annually (or biennially, as would be the case). But its not good enough to force the evolution of a Big Six.
The media, of course, tends to focus the lions share of its attention on the top of the top. Woods, Singh, Els, Mickelson, and to a lesser extent Goosen, grab the majority of the headlines.
Does it bother Garcia that he can accomplish so much and still be overlooked at times?
To tell you the truth, I really dont care that much. I know what I can do. Thats something that you guys (the media) like to point out, he said.
I really feel like Ive just got to get better, keep improving and let my clubs do the talking. You know, when I do that, then you guys will realize if Im in that category that you were talking about or not.
You can tell, however, there is something there. Something below the surface that occasionally rises up to shake the tree for a few leaves of respect.
It was just a year ago that Garcia shot 66 in the final round of the Masters and then chided a handful of reporters, saying When we're playing well, we're the best ... So it's nice to see how fair you guys are, and I just hope that you guys don't come out now saying, oh, you know, he's back, and this is the Sergio we know and all that.
Garcia later apologized for the outburst. Hes always been more emotional than most. And sometimes we tend to forget that hes only 25 years old and still maturing.
You know, I think thats probably one of my strengths, Garcia said a couple of weeks ago about his outward emotions. But, you know, you can also ' if you dont control it the right way, it can also be a weakness. So youve got to make sure that you go always on the right path.
It only seems that Garcia is well beyond his actual age. He rose to international prominence when he gave Woods a run at the 1999 PGA Championship ' when he was just 19.
He finished second that year at Medinah. And it wasn't long thereafter that he was grouped into the dreaded Best Player Never to Have Won a Major category.
I find it a bit funny, because, you know, Im (25) and they are putting me on that list already. Its like, if you just got on tour, and some people just got on tour who are 24, 25 years old and you cant just put them on that list.
But its also a good thing, because they consider you a good golfer, a good player.
Garcia has notched seven top-10 major finishes since nearly scissor-kicking his way to the 99 PGA title, but he hasnt come as close to winning one as he did that Sunday nearly six years ago.
You have to keep giving yourself chances, and as I said other years, theres some guys that are a bit more fortunate than that ' they get one chance and they get through. And theres some other guys that it takes them a bit longer, he said.
But, you know, I think that Im giving myself good opportunities of winning majors ' and thats all I can do at the moment, and hopefully things will go my way in one of them.
Garcia made an effort to better his game ' and his chances of winning a major ' by reworking his swing throughout the 2003 season. It was a trying period; and one where he suffered through his worst results as a professional.
It brought about plenty of criticism from others at the time, but now seems to have brought about plenty of positives for Garcia. Last year showed him ' and everyone else ' that everything he had been working on was actually going to work for him.
He ranked sixth on tour in scoring average and fourth in greens hit in regulation. He was 33rd in driving distance, but 170th in driving accuracy.
Garcia, who has bulked up a bit this year, carrying about 170 lbs on his 510 frame, isnt overly concerned about his waywardness off the tee. The Ford Championship was further proof that its better to be long than accurate in this day and age on the PGA Tour.
At the moment, Garcia is focused on improving his putting, where he ranked 129th on tour in 04.
The long game ' I think it was great, the best I had in my career, no doubt about it, Garcia said of his 2004 performance. Unfortunately, I didnt putt very well last year and it showed.
If I would have been putting a little bit better, I probably would have had four easy, good chances of winning more tournaments last year.
Garcia hasnt sniffed a victory yet this year. He got a top-10 at the limited-field Mercedes Championships and made it to the quarterfinals of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. But he has yet to crack the top 40 in two full-field, stroke-play events.
And he can point right to his putting for the reason why. For the most part, his numbers thus far this season are right on pace with last years ' he even leads the tour in Grenns Hit ' but hes 182nd on tour in putting average.
Im still a bit rusty, he said in his last event at the Ford Championship, where he ultimately tied for 64th. Definitely not feeling my best. But, you know, working on it and trying to get better and see if we can get some confidence.
If he can find a little confidence with the flat stick, it might swallow up his entire game. And wouldnt that add to an already dynamic season?
There's no doubt at the moment there's a lot of guys playing well. Of course probably two or three years ago, you know, Tiger was the one that was standing out. There was some other guys playing pretty well, but I think right now at the moment, there's a bigger group playing quite well, you know, playing good golf.
If I keep working on the same things Ive been working, Ill have a good chance of doing some good things.
Related Links:
  • Sergio Garcia's Bio
  • Full Coverage - Bay Hill Invitational
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.