Could Garcia's recent success help him capture that elusive major victory?

By Ryan LavnerApril 4, 2014, 8:46 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – There is an opening, growing wider. Can Sergio Garcia see it?

His biggest liability is now a strength.

He’s happy off the golf course – with this mercurial star, that’s immeasurably important.

The Masters is wide open and without the player who has so dramatically stunted the 34-year-old’s career.

Face it: This is Garcia’s best chance to win a major championship.

Sure, he’s still mired in the kind of negative talk that gives sports psychologists the shakes, but he’s never been more equipped to end his 0-for-career mark in Grand Slam events.

This idea was reinforced Friday, when Garcia shot a bogey-free 65 at the Shell Houston Open. It matched the best round of the day, and it gave him a one-shot lead over Matt Kuchar (67) heading into the weekend.

So far, Garcia has enjoyed the contender’s trinity: He missed only one fairway in the second round, he ranks third in proximity to the hole and he leads the field in strokes gained-putting.

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That last part is most important, at least for Garcia. Through two rounds he has taken just 51 putts, missing only four of 36 attempts from inside 15 feet.

In the two years since switching to the claw grip, Garcia has moved from 144th to 26th to eighth in putting. So readjust your expectations – the ball-striking virtuoso also can roll it.

“He’s putting so well,” said Steve Stricker, the Tour’s resident putting expert, who was grouped with Garcia for two rounds here. “When he does that, he’s tough to beat.”

He’s even tougher to beat when he’s happy.

That may sound like an oversimplification, but consider that one of the best years of his career was 2008, when he was in a relationship with Greg Norman’s daughter. That year he won once on the PGA Tour, finished second in the PGA Championship and earned a career-best $4.8 million.

They broke up in early 2009, and for the next three years a devastated Garcia produced just seven top 10s – and no wins – in 48 PGA Tour starts.

Recently, though, he began dating Katharina Boehm, and Garcia was so smitten that he put his girlfriend on the bag late last year in Thailand. He won the event, punctuating the victory with a post-round smooch for the cameras.


“It’s never fun to go through those emotions,” he said Friday. “But you’ve got to learn from those downs and kind of enjoy the highs as much as you can. You know, don’t take them for granted.

“I’m definitely happier outside the golf course, which helps me to be happier inside the golf course. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to play well every time. But at least you feel like your frame of mind is a little bit in a better state.”

That good frame of mind has carried over this week in Houston, where the world No. 8 will be looking for his third title in his last seven worldwide starts.

Which brings us to next week’s major championship, and his bid to end what has been a long, largely frustrating journey.

The good news for Garcia is that never in his career has he entered a major with such a prolonged run of good form. Of the Masters contenders, the normally volatile Spaniard has actually been the most consistent, finishing inside the top 20 in every tournament he has entered since The Barclays in August.

Consider the usual suspects: Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy and Matt Kuchar each have kicked away tournaments in recent weeks; Henrik Stenson can’t yet rediscover his 2013 form; and Jason Day and Phil Mickelson are still battling injuries.

Sergio doesn’t have to worry about Tiger Woods, either.

This point cannot be understated. Surely it’s no coincidence that three of Garcia’s best major finishes have come when Woods sat out because of injury: T-2 the 2008 PGA, T-7 at the 2011 U.S. Open and T-9 at the 2011 Open Championship.

Does Garcia view this wide-open Masters as one of his best opportunities to win a Big One? Cue the pessimism.  

“You can never tell,” he shrugged. “We’ve seen it over and over. We’ve seen how some weeks you can go from missing a cut comfortably to winning the next week, or going from winning to missing the cut or finishing 40th.

“Obviously, playing nicely helps, there’s no doubt about that. But every week is a different world.”

Garcia has sparred with the Golf Gods in the past, of course, and it’s worth noting the winners here have a not-so-good history the following week at Augusta: Of the Houston Open winners since 2007, only Anthony Kim (T-3) has gone on to finish in the top 10 at the Masters. Only four players in history have won in back-to-back weeks.

Sergio needn’t concern himself with such history, though. There is an opening, growing wider by the day. It’s just a matter of whether he can see it.

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

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“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”