Isn't it somewhat ironic that Sergio Garcia now sits squarely between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the world rankings?
Back in 1999, Sergio was locked in a duel with Tiger at Medinah with the PGA Championship hanging in the balance. Tiger, of course, won the battle that day, but in the process 'El Niño' was officially anointed as the next 'can't miss golf superstar.' The next Tiger, if you will.
He was just a baby-faced 19-year-old who would no doubt follow in the glorious footsteps of fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. He was fast tracked to superstardom – major championships simply a matter of when and not if.
Fast-forward nine years to 2008 and Sergio is still without a major championship to his name – a name that, much like Tiger, doesn't require a surname to be recognized. Over that time, however, there have been quite a few close calls as well as some strange twists of fate: 54-hole leads vanishing into thin air, frightening canary-colored outfits, rugs pulled out from under him, and, of course this year, best friend (wink, wink) Padraig Harrington ripping another major from his grasp.
This, paradoxically, is much like the career path of Mickelson, the man he just passed in the world rankings. 'Lefty', now the owner of three majors, was for a long time famously – or infamously – known as the ‘best player to never win a major.’ He had all the talent in the world, but was seemingly at odds with the golfing gods. Sergio, too, looks as if he has inherited Mickelson’s all-you-can-ride rollercoaster pass, enough to cause a mere mortal to disappear from the planet. His 2008 season being a perfect example: A huge win at The Players, and although not technically a major, it's called the ‘fifth major.’ Said Sergio following the win: “It feels like a major, and it tests you like a major. I’m so thrilled to be here standing with the trophy.” A heartbreaking loss at the PGA Championship, where Harrington put on one of the greatest displays of clutch putting in major championship history. Afterwards, Sergio didn’t endear himself to many fans, seemingly blaming those fateful golf gods for his defeat: “They get in contention in a major and manage to get things going their way…and unfortunately, it hasn’t happened to me.” Closes out his PGA Tour season in superb fashion, finishing in the top 5 in three of the four FedEx Cup Playoff events, including a pair of second-place finishes. In the process, he wraps up the Vardon Trophy for lowest scoring average on Tour, an honor won by Tiger in eight of the previous nine years. Gets waxed by Anthony Kim in the opening Sunday singles match at Valhalla, which set the tone for the day and gives the U.S. squad a long overdue victory. Saddled with the ongoing saga of idol Ballesteros battling a brain tumor, he won an event hosted by he and his father, the Castello Masters, on the course he grew up playing. “I couldn’t help but think about Seve. I’m sending all my love to him and his family and hope he recovers soon. I hope this victory helps him to get a little better,” he said. Wins the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, the first event in the inaugural ‘Race to Dubai.’ In the process, supplants Mickelson as the No. 2 player in the world. 'Being No. 2 is awesome,” Sergio said. “I have never achieved it before. It is something extra for the year.'
And now with his rise to the No. 2 ranking in the world, Sergio is unanimously the best player to never win a major. And it is not lost on the Spaniard: “I have been trying for a while (to get to No. 2), but winning a major is the next goal.”
In a sport often criticized for the lack of personalities, Sergio, burns bright – although many times that brightness is not cast in the most forgiving light. No person, aside from Tiger, produced more drama than Sergio in 2008.
And in the era of Tiger Woods, being No. 2 is like being No. 1. Kinda like The Players being the ‘fifth major.’
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