Garcia at peace with major-less credentials

By Will GrayMarch 31, 2015, 10:31 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – What’s the proper shelf life on a nickname?

It’s an irrelevant question for many of the best names in golf: The King, Tiger, Shark, Golden Bear and Black Knight. All of those endure the test of time.

But some are more ephemeral, their fit wearing out like an overused t-shirt as the years pass.

Take, for example, Sergio Garcia. When he burst onto the scene at age 19, the Spaniard was playfully dubbed El Niño, a nickname that has followed him throughout his career. But the player teeing it up this week at the Shell Houston Open has very little Niño about him.

Garcia turned 35 in January, and he is in the midst of his 16th season on the PGA Tour. His baby-faced smile has been replaced by the grizzled shadow of a veteran, one who has already compiled a wildly successful career: eight wins in the U.S., 11 more in Europe and more than $37 million in PGA Tour earnings.

And yet ...

Despite ranking ninth on the all-time money list, Garcia continues to be dogged by the only thing missing from his otherwise stellar resume: a major championship. That fact won’t change this week in Houston, and based simply on the probabilities history won't be on Garcia's side next week at the Masters.

In fact, as he now sits closer to the Champions Tour than his famed frolic across the 16th fairway at Medinah, there’s reason to think that a major may never come his way.

But don’t expect Garcia to lose much sleep over what his credentials lack.

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“If it comes down to me not winning any majors when I’m done with my golfing career, I’m not going to be sad,” Garcia said Tuesday. “It’s not the main thing. Obviously it’s something nice to have, and if I get it I’m not going to give it back, but that is not – it’s not the main thing in my life.”

His answer has roots in a sense of contentment that comes from playing some of your best golf while you plan a future with the love of your life. It also shows tinges of rationalization, the inevitable byproduct of numerous close calls without tasting triumph.

But Garcia has never been one to shy away from an opinion, whether assessing the role the golf gods played in his playoff loss at the 2007 Open Championship or evaluating his newfound happiness both on and off the course alongside fiancée Katharina Boehm.

Too often players offer canned responses to tough questions, or no responses at all. Garcia, to his credit, fielded various queries with candor, displaying the poise of a veteran who has found a fundamental sense of peace.

“I think as you get older, as you get more and more experience, you realize the important things in life,” he said. “I’m not saying that winning a major is not important, but it’s not the most important thing in the world. I think there’s a lot of other things that you can do that can not only fulfill you as a player, but also as a person.”

Make no mistake, the major odds no longer are in Garcia’s favor. While Bubba Watson won the Masters last year at age 35, less than a quarter of the total majors since 1960 have been won by players 36 or older. Garcia is now beyond the age at which Phil Mickelson ended his major drought at the 2004 Masters.

In order to claim a major, Garcia would need to overcome the old guard that has stood in his way since the turn of the century, but more importantly he would have to defeat the new wave of the game’s brightest stars, led by Rory McIlroy who kept him at bay last summer at Royal Liverpool.

Garcia is one of the longest-tenured members of the major championship bread line, but the mouths around him – those of Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, Jason Day and others – are perhaps even hungrier.

It didn’t help matters that in his lone brush with contention this year, Garcia reverted back to his old ways. Leading by one with two holes to go at the Northern Trust Open, he finished bogey-bogey to miss a playoff by a shot.

Given weeks to reflect, Garcia has turned that close call into another positive, one upon which he hopes to build this week in Houston at an event he nearly won a year ago.

As for the rest of the year, and the four major chances that loom? It’s all a matter of perspective.

“As you go through life, and through moments not only on the golf course but outside and stuff,” he said, “you kind of realize the things that are really, really important in your life and the things that are important, but you can kind of go through without them.”

Garcia’s major may come next week. It may come next year, or it may not come at all.

Whatever the outcome, expect him to flash a smile. He is, after all, El Niño.

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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