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.

Masters Tournament: Scores | Live blog: Day 4 | Full coverage

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.”

Getty Images

Perez skips Torrey, 'upset' with Ryder Cup standings

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 2:19 am

Pat Perez is unhappy about his standing on the U.S. Ryder Cup points list, and his situation won't improve this week.

Perez won the CIMB Classic during the fall portion of this season, and he followed that with a T-5 finish at the inaugural CJ Cup. But he didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for either result because of a rule enacted by the American task force prior to the 2014 Ryder Cup which only awards points during the calendar year of the biennial matches as well as select events like majors and WGCs during the prior year.

As a result, Perez is currently 17th in the American points race - behind players like Patrick Reed, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas and James Hahn, none of whom have won a tournament since the 2016 Ryder Cup - as he looks to make a U.S. squad for the first time at age 42.

"That kind of upset me a little bit, the fact that I'm (17) on the list, but I should probably be (No.) 3 or 4," Perez told Golf Digest. "So it kind of put a bitter taste in my mouth. The fact that you win on the PGA Tour and you beat some good players, yet you don't get any points because of what our committee has decided to do."

Perez won't be earning any points this week because he has opted to tee it up at the European Tour's Omega Dubai Desert Classic. The decision comes after Perez finished T-21 last week at the Singapore Open, and it means that the veteran is missing the Farmers Insurance Open in his former hometown of San Diego for the first time since 2001.

Perez went to high school a few minutes from Torrey Pines, and he defeated a field that included Tiger Woods to win the junior world title on the South Course in 1993. His father, Tony, has been a longtime starter on the tournament's opening hole, and Perez was a runner-up in 2014 and tied for fourth last year.

Getty Images

Woods favored to miss Farmers Insurance Open cut

By Will GrayJanuary 24, 2018, 1:54 am

If the Las Vegas bookmakers are to be believed, folks in the San Diego area hoping to see Tiger Woods this week might want to head to Torrey Pines early.

Woods is making his first competitive start of the year this week at the Farmers Insurance Open, and it will be his first official start on the PGA Tour since last year's event. He missed nearly all of 2017 because of a back injury before returning with a T-9 finish last month at the Hero World Challenge.

But the South Course at Torrey Pines is a far different test than Albany, and the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook lists Woods as a -180 favorite to miss the 36-hole cut. It means bettors must wager $180 to win $100, while his +150 odds to make the cut mean a bettor can win $150 with a $100 wager.

Woods is listed at 25/1 to win. He won the tournament for the seventh time in 2013, but in three appearances since he has missed the 36-hole cut, missed the 54-hole cut and withdrawn after 12 holes.

Here's a look at the various Woods-related prop bets available at the Westgate:

Will Woods make the 36-hole cut? Yes +150, No -180

Lowest single-round score (both courses par 72): Over/Under 70

Highest single-round score: Over/Under 74.5

Will Woods finish inside the top 10? Yes +350, No -450

Will Woods finish inside the top 20? Yes +170, No -200

Will Woods withdraw during the tournament? Yes +650, No -1000

Getty Images

Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

Getty Images

Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.