AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who rages against the golf gods in major championships more than Sergio Garcia?
The man has practically shaken his fist at the heavens and cursed.
Nobody in this generation of players has experienced more tumult in majors without claiming the ultimate prize.
So here we go again, once more, into the breach for Garcia at the Masters.
With a brilliant opening round of 6-under-par 66, Garcia seized a share of the lead at Augusta National. It’s notable he fashioned this bogey-free round just a year after this place appeared to break him. This is the major that has most confounded him. This is where his frustration left him muttering in resignation that he lacked what it takes to win a major.
“I’m not good enough,” Garcia said after a third-round 75 last year knocked him out of contention. “I don’t have the thing I need to have. The conclusion is I need to play for second or third place.”
So what does Garcia do Thursday? He challenges the golf gods. He takes a share of the lead, something he has never held at the end of any round in his previous 48 rounds at the Masters.
So what’s going on here?
Is Garcia, 33, being set up for more major championship heartbreak?
Or is he on his way to scripting one of the great major championship breakthroughs this sport has ever seen?
Garcia understands it’s just the first round, but his history here is so tumultuous, it is just plain strange seeing his name atop the leaderboard, regardless of the round.
“Obviously, it’s not my most favorite place,” Garcia said after signing his scorecard. “But, you know, we try to enjoy it as much as we can each time we come here. Sometimes, it comes out better than others, but today, it was one of those good days. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.”
While it lasts? The remark sounds like an echo from last year’s despairing rant, but Garcia says that isn’t so. A year removed, he put some new perspective to his words.
“Those were my words,” Garcia said. “But no, I think that at the end of the day, we go through moments, tough moments, and I know it was one of them. Obviously, maybe I didn't say it the right way, because it was one of those frustrating moments. What I felt is that I definitely kind of shot myself out of the tournament last year, and that's what I did, on that Saturday. So I wasn't wrong there.
“But every time I tee off, I try to play as well as I can, hope that my best that week is really, really good, and if I manage to do that, I will have a chance at winning. If my best is not that good, then, you know, I'll struggle a little bit.
“Today, my best was pretty good, and I'm looking forward to doing the same thing the next three days. It will be really nice.”
Garcia’s irritation with Augusta National’s mercurial nature came out four years ago, too.
After closing with a 74 that year and tying for 38th, Garcia complained the course was too difficult.
“I don't like it, to tell you the truth,” he said. “I don't think it's fair, and it's just too tricky. Even when it's dry, you still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway. It's just too much of a guessing game.”
Garcia is a fiery player. Sometimes, his emotions get the best of him. Other times, his emotions pull the best out of him. That’s the thing with Garcia. If you could surgically separate the feisty, callow elements of his nature, he might not be the same player. What sometimes turns us off may be what turns his game on.
Adam Scott played alongside Garcia Thursday at Augusta National. They’ve known each other a long time, and Scott doesn’t think Garcia is playing for second place.
“I mean, it's a reaction to frustration and disappointment of a poor week,” Scott said. “He wears his heart on his sleeve, and I'm sure that's how he felt at the time he said it. So, I think it's a bit of a throw-away line. I don't think he's living by that at all.”
Garcia has won 24 professional events around the world, eight times on the PGA Tour, but he is 0-for-57 in major championships.
When Garcia, as a 19-year-old sensation, made a final-round charge at Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship at Medinah, he was heaped with great expectations. That would lead to great frustrations. Three times, he has been runner-up in a major, including that playoff loss to Padraig Harrington in the ’07 British Open.
Garcia seemed to be mired in a crisis of confidence during last year’s Masters.
“We all go through those moments,” Garcia said. “The beauty and the bad thing about this game is that, that it can have such highs and such lows, because it's a lot more mental than some of the other games. So you know, the most important thing is to make sure that you get through those nicely and learn from them.”
Garcia would like to show he has learned to win a major from them.