Finally at peace, Garcia makes major breakthrough

By Rex HoggardApril 10, 2017, 1:54 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Deep into the back nine on Sunday at the 1999 PGA Championship, Sergio Garcia charged in a long birdie putt at the par-3 13th hole and cast his young eyes in the direction of Tiger Woods.

“I was kind of telling him: If you want to win, you have to play well,” the then-19-year-old said of his mischievous glare in ’99 at Medinah, an event that doubled as his competitive cotillion.

Without the weight of 74 major starts hanging heavy on his shoulders, Garcia was precocious and unapologetic. The perfectly timed lag in his swing was matched only by a larger-than-life persona that had so much promise. Tiger vs. El Nino, El Nino vs. Tiger – it was the kind of prelude that gets folks thinking about a decade-long rivalry.

It’s been 18 years since that sunny afternoon outside of Chicago, and as is normally the case, hindsight can be a cruel companion.

Woods went on to win a dozen more majors after that shootout, while Garcia’s Grand Slam resume was best described as a major disappointment.

He’d finished in the top 10 at a major 22 times, including four runner-up finishes, most recently at the 2014 Open. Even his most optimistic fans had found it increasingly difficult to believe his time would come.

Even when he began Sunday’s final round at the Masters tied for the lead with Justin Rose, even when he found himself three strokes clear of the Englishman through five holes, there was too much scar tissue to think this story would have a happy ending.

When things started to go sideways after the turn there was no surprise, not if you’re being honest. He’d found so many ways to lose, why would this moment be any different?

There were no “Spieth” moments for Garcia. He didn’t dump two into the creek at the 12th or spin a wedge into a hazard at No. 15. The Band-Aid appeared to be coming off slowly, painfully.

A shaky drive at the 10th hole and an approach that found the bushes led to his first bogey of the day; another drive left at No. 11 settled behind a towering Georgia pine, but there was no Medinah-like miracle this time, just a spray of pine needles and another bogey to fall two strokes behind Rose. Just like that, he went from three strokes clear to two back in six holes.

For three days Garcia played with one arm in a green jacket. As he limped his way through Amen Corner he looked like a man in a straitjacket.

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The turning point came just as he appeared to have hit rock bottom. After he pulled his tee shot left of the creek at the 13th hole and took a drop his title chances appeared predetermined. But unlike all of those times when things got away from him in the past, Garcia didn’t quit, he didn’t give up or curse fate for turning its back on him.

“Even on 13, I didn't hit that bad a drive. In the past, I would have started telling my caddie, ‘Oh, why doesn't it go through,’” Garcia said. “But I was like, well, if that's what is supposed to happen, let it happen. Let's try to make a great 5 here and see if we can put on a hell of a finish to have a chance.”

He made that "great 5,” added a birdie at the 14th hole and retook a share of the lead with a 14-footer for eagle at No. 15.

On the eve of the final round, Garcia spoke of the need for fortune’s intervention. After keeping such esoteric thoughts at arm’s length for much of his career, age has softened the Spaniard and brought an appreciation for the things he can’t control.

That’s in dramatic contrast to the man who in 2012 after finishing tied for 12th at Augusta National famously figured, “I'm not good enough. ... I don't have the thing I need to have. In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”

But this year was different. This year there was a freedom that the golf world hasn’t seen in some time. It was there from the opening tee shot and following a second-round 69 when he talked of balance and a life that is no longer defined by birdies and bogeys.

For so long the golf gods had vied against him, but on Sunday with a renewed clarity of thought he endured the slings and arrows of fortune like a man who finally understood that luck favors the prepared.

“A lot of things going on through my mind,” he said of the moments following his victory. “Some of the times I've had here at Augusta that maybe I haven't enjoyed as much and how stupid I really was trying to fight against something that you can't fight; and how proud I was of accepting things.”

By the time Garcia made his way to the 18th green for the second time on Sunday 18 years of futility had fallen away to reveal a man who is finally at peace in his own skin. As his 10-footer for birdie in the playoff dropped into the hole for the victory Garcia’s father, Victor, couldn’t contain himself in the normally subdued confines of the Augusta National grill room.

The reasons were obvious.

Garcia’s idol and two-time Masters champion Seve Ballesteros would have turned 60 on Sunday. Garcia played a practice round with Ballesteros in 1999 in his first trip to Augusta National and considers the late Spaniard a kindred spirit.

“Seve, Seve won this for Sergio,” gushed Victor as he fought back tears.

Perhaps it was Ballesteros who stepped in to end Garcia’s long major winter. Or perhaps after all these years El Nino finally embraced the concept that he spoke of as a 19-year-old at the ’99 PGA – “If you want to win, you have to play well.”

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.