Unlike in '08, Garcia succeeding despite putter

By Randall MellMay 10, 2015, 12:23 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – After Sergio Garcia won The Players Championship in 2008, he lifted his putter, as if it were a scepter for everyone to see, and kissed the blade.

Given his tumultuous relationship with the unruly instrument, the image was jarring.

This gifted ball striker showed what magic is possible when he makes an ally on the greens.

Garcia is back in contention at The Players, but the bewildering angle this time is that he’s making his run with a putter that is practically a sworn enemy again. He’s knocking on the door of his ninth PGA Tour title in spite of his wicked, cursed - even broken - flat stick.

After posting a 5-under-par 67 Saturday, Garcia did everything but scratch his head when he looked up to see that he is just two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I am a little surprised I am where I am, the way I feel, because I feel like I’ve left a lot of shots out there,” Garcia said.

Garcia isn’t being overly dramatic. He didn’t snap his putter over his knee after Friday’s round and stuff it in a garbage can for effect. A look at the tournament stats will make his fellow players want to scratch their heads, too.

Garcia is in contention despite ranking dead last in the field in putting from inside 10 feet.

He has missed five putts of 4 feet or less.

He was so flummoxed on Friday that he began alternating between a conventional grip and claw grip over the final four holes.

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“I don’t know what to do,” he said after the round.

Garcia started this week with a conventional grip but was back to the claw throughout Saturday’s round.

The fact that Garcia is in contention is a testament to how stellar his ball striking remains. He hit every fairway but one Saturday. He’s first in the field this week in strokes gained-tee to green and tied for fourth in greens in regulation.

Yes, of course, Garcia is making putts. He holed a nice 12-footer to save par at the last hole on Saturday, but he was still kicking himself for missing so many good chances. He missed putts from 9 feet, 8 feet, 7 feet and 3 feet in Saturday’s round alone.

Garcia’s mood was inscrutable after. It was difficult to tell if he was excited about being in contention to win another Players Championship or disappointed that he wasn’t running away with the title.

“I am excited,” Garcia was asked. “It's always exciting to be up there, but at the same time, obviously, you look back at these first three days, and I feel like I easily left, on average, three shots out there every round. You cannot think what could have been. It is what it is. It's as simple as that. I’ve just got to deal with it and try to do the best with what I have and that's what I'm trying to do.”

Sometimes Garcia seems to sabotage himself. We’ve all heard him be afraid to trust prosperity, or doubt fortune is ready to favor him, or just beat himself up.

“Sergio is hard on himself,” Rory McIlroy said. “I think you guys have probably experienced that over the past 15 or 20 years covering him. There’s a reason he gets so down on himself. Because he is so talented, and he knows what he can achieve. He knows how  good he can be.

“We’re all like that at times. I get frustrated with myself, but I feel like I can just sort of let it go maybe a little easier. Maybe that Latin blood in there sort of gets him a little fired up.”

Garcia started the week with a TaylorMade prototype blade putter made specially for him. He abandoned it for the second round but went back to it Saturday after breaking the putter he brought off the bench, in addition to changing his grip.

“Even when it doesn't feel good, it still feels better than the other one, when it doesn't feel good,” Garcia said.

With the putting frustration so apparent, Garcia was asked how confident he is going into Sunday.

“I'm very confident with my game, with my long game,” he said. “Even my chipping has been quite good for most of the year. Unfortunately, my putting has just been up and down. Some great rounds, and then some rounds where, I don't know, I can't even see the hole.

“We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

We’ll see if Garcia kisses the blade of another putter in victory, or snaps yet another as he sends it on the way to another garbage can.

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x