PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Sergio Garcia marched into the TPC Sawgrass locker room Friday after a particularly satisfying day of work.
Behind him, you could hear the fast approaching click-clack of golf cleats.
Woods followed Garcia through the double doors of the locker room after nearly catching him on the leaderboard.
“Nice playing, Sergio,” Woods said with a pat on the back.
“Thanks, Tiger,” Garcia said.
To the delight of so many fans here at the Stadium Course, these old foes will be seeing a lot of each other this weekend.
With a 7-under-par 65, Garcia leaped to the top of the leaderboard in the second round.
At 11-under 133, Garcia is one shot ahead of Woods through 36 holes. They will play together in the final pairing off Saturday afternoon.
That promises to straighten up the backs of all those folks packed into the grandstand around the first tee.
There is some colorful history between these two, though it so lopsidedly favors Woods. Of course, that puts Garcia in some good company. Woods’ history lopsidedly favors him over everyone.
Garcia was asked if he was eager to measure himself against Woods again.
“We’ll see what happens,” said Garcia. “But, no, no, I don’t have to measure myself against anybody. I know what I want to try to do. Any given day, I can shoot a round like this, and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me.
“There are going to be good days and not-so good days, so you’ve just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible.”
As maddening as Pete Dye’s Stadium Course design can be, Garcia looks surprisingly comfortable on it. It’s surprising because nobody seems to get comfortable around all the trouble that lurks here. It’s also surprising because Dye likes to aggravate and infuriate, and we’ve seen how Garcia’s emotions can sometimes get the best of him, for better or worse.
Still, Garcia won here in ’08. He finished second here in ’07. As one of the game’s best ball-strikers, Garcia navigates around the trouble here as well as anyone.
He was asked if it’s one of his favorite PGA Tour courses.
“Probably,” Garcia said. “I like Westchester, too. I’ve always liked those kind of courses, with small greens, not particularly long, but with doglegs and things like that, courses that ask you to maneuver the ball and stuff like that. This is no different than that.”
Garcia’s putter, often a liability, seems to work better here on Dye’s smallish greens.
Back when Garcia won The Players five years ago, he walked off the final green planting a kiss on the face of his putter. Given the fits his flat stick has given him over the years, it was a kiss to remember.
Garcia has his putter working again this week. It’s a Taylormade Ghost Tour model that he has been using for two years. This one was slightly altered two months ago, with the hosel more angular now. With that claw grip of his feeling good, Garcia took just 10 putts Friday on his second nine. He needed just 25 putts for the round.
“If you would have seen me on the front nine, I played better,” Garcia said. “I hit every single green, gave myself birdie chances everywhere.”
On his second nine, the ball started diving into the hole. Garcia, who started his round on the 10th tee, made five consecutive birdies on his second nine, six over seven holes.
“I started rolling the putts in,” Garcia said. “I just got in a good rhythm on the greens. It seemed like I had a good feel for it, and every putt just wanted to drop.”
Woods has his putter working, too. Woods is in the running with a pair of 67s. This is as comfortable as he has looked on the Stadium Course in a long time, but he has an even better history here than Garcia. Woods also has won The Players Championship, back in 2001, but he also won a U.S. Amateur here in ’94.
“Even though I haven’t played well here in the past, I’ve still won here,” Woods said. “I know how to get around this golf course. This course, more than most, really tests every facet of your game.”
If they’re both at their best this weekend, it could be fun.
There was that first spark of promise that these two might be something special together when a 19-year-old Garcia pushed Woods in a strong challenge at the PGA Championship at Medinah back in ’99. A real rivalry didn’t follow because Woods has trumped Garcia on so many big stages.
At the British Open in ’06 at Royal Liverpool, Garcia was in the final Sunday pairing with Woods. Garcia trailed by a shot, but he couldn’t get past Woods.
At the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in '02, Garcia and Woods were in the final Sunday pairing again, with Garcia chasing again. Woods ended up hoisting the trophy again.
While it’s not a major, The Players gives Garcia a chance to trump Woods on a big stage. The challenge escalates Saturday.