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.

Shell Houston Open: Articles, videos and photos

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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TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 6:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:

• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.

• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.

• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.

• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.

• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them. 

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 5:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).