Garcia (73) still center of attention after ace at 17

By Will GrayMay 12, 2017, 12:21 am

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – As he addressed the media next to the yawning clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass, the chant from the autograph area grew louder by the minute.

“Sergio! Sergio! Sergio!” said seemingly every pre-teen in the greater Jacksonville area.

Garcia answered each question, but the chants grew louder still. Finally, they reached a crescendo that elicited a wry grin from the Spaniard.

“I guess I’d better head over there,” he said.

This was always the dream scenario for Sergio Garcia. The 1:41 p.m. tee time in the opening round of The Players Championship was effectively a celebration in his honor, the first of many opportunities for Garcia to be introduced on the first tee of a tournament as Masters champ.

The green jacket wasn’t on his shoulders as he struck his opening tee shot, but it might as well have been. And while the honeymoon period quickly dried up once he hit the course, Garcia managed to author a highlight by day’s end that will be difficult to top the rest of the week.

Garcia has been one of the few players to consistently tame Pete Dye’s menacing design, and he entered this week with 13 straight made cuts at the PGA Tour’s flagship event. But after six holes that streak appeared in dire jeopardy, as Garcia stood at 4 over after an opening bogey and a four-putt double on No. 5.

“I was a little bit nervous early on. I think I wasn’t quite in the tournament because of everything that’s been going on, obviously after the Masters win, and media, and people congratulating you left, right and center,” Garcia said. “I felt like I was a little bit up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was 4 over after six.”

He managed to get things somewhat back on track, but as he made the nerve-wracking walk from the 16th green to the 17th tee he still stood at 3 over.

Garcia’s relationship with the island green certainly qualifies as complicated. It was there that he defeated Paul Goydos in a playoff to win the 2008 Players, and it was also where he lost the tournament in both 2013 (two balls in the water during the final round while leading) and 2015 (part of a playoff loss to Rickie Fowler).

But Thursday he used his 52-degree wedge to author another positive memory on one of the most iconic holes in golf.

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“It was nice to see it bounce and spin back into the hole,” Garcia said. “Maybe I needed it after the start I had. It kind of made a poor round into, not a great round, but a decent round.”

Garcia’s ace was the eighth in tournament history on No. 17, the second in as many years and a shot that sent the fans gathered in the adjacent amphitheater into a frenzy.

“It was a great shot the whole way,” said playing partner Matt Kuchar. “You’re kind of hoping for it, and then it was awfully exciting when it went in. I mean, 17 has got to be the most recognizable hole in the world. To have one there is very cool.”

Garcia watched a replay of his shot on a giant video screen next to the tee, and he basked in the applause that deservedly went his way. It was a remarkable situation considering this was the same setting where a very pro-Tiger Woods gallery had reveled in Garcia’s demise on the penultimate hole just four years ago.

But the sport’s landscape has undergone a seismic shift in the interim, and now Garcia is the man of the hour.

“It was awesome,” Kuchar said. “Just the first tee experience was very cool, Sergio being announced as Masters champ. The crowd was very warm and welcoming, excited to have him. It was a lot of love there from fans for Sergio.”

Garcia did his best to downplay the situation, noting the quirkiness of the 17th hole that caused Adam Scott to follow his ace, land his ball a few feet to the right and watch as it spun back into the water.

“Obviously, it was a hole-in-one,” Garcia said. “So if they don’t react to that, then something’s wrong.”

The day began with Garcia squarely in the spotlight, and hours later he managed to thrust himself back into it with a single, 123-yard wedge.

It’s not often that a 1-over 73 makes you the center of attention. But these days it’s good to be Sergio Garcia, and Thursday was no exception.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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