MARANA, Ariz. – Of course it would be Sergio Garcia who would so publicly scale the hill to the bizarre moral high ground.
Whether one views the Spaniard as villain or victim, the surreal episode that unfolded on Friday at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was all at once principled and peculiar.
Garcia, 2 up in his Round 3 match against Rickie Fowler, hit his tee shot near a sprinkler head short of the sixth green. Depending on who you ask, there were anywhere from 20 (Garcia’s estimate) to 50 (Fowler’s count) bees buzzing about the sprinkler.
“I had a bad experience with bees as a youngster so I felt quite uncomfortable with the shot,” Garcia said.
After a lengthy decision with the walking rules official, Garcia was allowed to drop away from the bees while Fowler waited to attempt his 8-footer for birdie. Fowler missed, Garcia scrambled for par to halve the hole and the duo headed to the par-4 seventh.
As Fowler and Garcia eyed par putts to halve the seventh hole of 18 feet and 6 feet, respectively, El Nino broke the silence.
“Wanna half?” he asked Fowler.
As an aside, count “good, good?” among the phrases that will not be uttered at September’s Ryder Cup.
Fowler, flummoxed by the notion of an 18-foot gimme, blinked.
“What?” he asked. As he explained later, “Then he said, ‘Wanna half?’ And I’m like, ‘Excuse me?’ I kind of wanted to play it out but I’d be stupid not to take his offer.”
Fowler would win the match, 1 up.
As the two marched to the eighth tee, Garcia explained to Fowler that he felt bad about making the American wait to putt at No. 6 and wanted to make amends. After the match, Garcia said he felt like it was simply the right thing to do.
“My drop on No. 6 took too much time and I would not want to be in his position,” Garcia said. “I thought it was the best thing to do for the game and for me.”
This, however, was about more than simply a clear conscience. Garcia, who has endured and enabled more than his share of contentious moments in his career, was making a statement, and whether one considers his actions calculated or candid the point was above criticism.
The level of vitriol in golf reached raucous levels in 2013. Between the very public rift over anchored putting to Vijay Singh’s legal give and take over his run-in with the PGA Tour’s anti-doping program, the gentlemen’s game has been anything but in recent times.
“I feel like unfortunately the game is not where it should be. We are gentlemen,” Garcia explained. “It’s sad, but unfortunate that the world is a little twisted at the moment.”
To be historically accurate, parts of that “twisted” dialogue have been of the Spaniard’s making.
His dust-up with Tiger Woods during last year’s Players Championship, for example, was prompted in large part because Garcia felt the world No. 1 had intentionally caused the crowd to react while Garcia was hitting a shot. But after the tape was reviewed more times than the Zapruder film it was clear Woods didn’t mean to cause the disturbance.
In May, Garcia compounded the problem when he was asked during an awards ceremony in London if he planned to have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open.
“We will have him ’round every night. We will serve fried chicken,” Garcia said.
The fallout was understandably negative despite a quick apology from Garcia.
Although Garcia dismissed the notion on Friday at Dove Mountain that his reference to “twisted” conventions was based on his recent social snafus, he did concede that a particularly nasty rules issue earlier this season in Abu Dhabi had been on his mind.
European Tour rules officials had Garcia return to the course in January early the next morning after his opening round in Abu Dhabi to review a possible violation when he was shown tapping down a pitch mark. Garcia was cleared of any violation, but the incident was a large part of his motivation on Friday.
Perhaps Garcia would not be the obvious choice as the front man for PSAs extolling the virtues of golf, but his message is just as relevant.
“That’s what is great about this game, the inherent idea of fair play,” Graeme McDowell said. “You can say a lot about Sergio, but he’s passionate about playing the game fairly.”
After a contentious 12 months in golf, Garcia’s was a message worth listening to regardless of the messenger.
“I was definitely surprised, but sometimes it is fun to be out there as friends like you are at home,” said Fowler, who added that the delay at No. 6 didn’t impact his play on the hole.
It may not have the marketing ring of “These guys are good,” but friends having fun is worth repeating.