LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Those expecting the undercard to Mayweather-Canelo were disappointed Saturday.
There were no more flare-ups in the oft-contentious Tiger Woods-Sergio Garcia saga. No barbs. No bickering.
There was no time for acrimony. Not when Woods was too busy trying to claw his way back into contention at the BMW Championship.
That task was already proving more difficult than anticipated, especially after being slapped with a controversial two-shot penalty late Friday, which sent him from five to seven shots behind heading into the weekend at Conway Farms.
Not even several TV replays, or a “very good discussion” with rules official Slugger White, or a long night to think about what happened could convince Woods otherwise. Over and over again he watched the replay, and he still didn’t change his mind. He thought the ball behind the first green oscillated, but did not change position. He thought the penalty was unwarranted.
So often in these situations the ruling goes in the player’s favor. Not this time.
“Today was going to be hard,” Woods said. “When situations like that happen, I had to fight, and I fought my tail off today.”
And he did so with a familiar opponent – OK, foe – in the same pairing.
The Tiger-Sergio rivalry has been decidedly lopsided over the years. In their previous 20 meetings, Woods was 13-3-4 against Garcia, head-to-head, with Tiger holding the advantage in the last five meetings. More than that, though, Woods was more than two shots better than Garcia in those meetings (69.9 to 71.95), and the Spaniard hadn’t broken 72 in his last five rounds with Tiger.
This was the 21st time that Woods and Garcia have been paired together in a tournament, but Saturday’s encounter was notable after their most recent exchange in mid-May.
By now you know the story: Garcia accused Woods of distracting him during a shot. Called him out on national TV. Tiger returned the favor in an interview. Sergio couldn’t keep quiet. Their mutual dislike was always apparent, but it had never aired publicly, at least not like this. A week later, Garcia made a racially insensitive remark at an awards dinner. Apologized profusely, to Woods and anyone he offended. Left a note in Woods’ locker. Chapter closed.
So, yes, this meeting was more curiosity than animosity.
With both players seven shots back to start the third round of the BMW, the intensity wasn’t as high as their showdown at TPC Sawgrass. Nevertheless, they barely acknowledged each other’s presence during their four-hour spin. Sure, they wished each other well on the first tee and identified their golf balls. But that was it.
And like he’s done so many times before, Woods took the upper hand early.
He made three consecutive birdies on Nos. 6-8, but then the round began to drag.
On the ninth, Woods waited in the fairway for several minutes as Garcia sized up his approach from the right native area. A hole later, Woods had a kick-in birdie while Garcia’s approach shot found the right hazard. As Garcia examined his options, Woods retreated to the back of the green, to the shade, out of view, where he leaned against one of the TV towers, closed his eyes, crossed his arms, and waited eight minutes.
The delay seemed to annoy Woods, but it didn’t affect his play. On the next hole, the par-3 12th, he stuffed his tee shot to 6 feet, and then he nearly holed his approach on the 13th for another birdie, his fifth in six holes.
Woods’ round stalled midway through the back nine, however, when he missed a 6-footer for birdie on 14, and then botched the drivable 15th, where he was in between 3- and 5-wood, went with more club, tried to hit a soft cut, and instead hit a “pull straight ball” that splashed in the pond.
“God!” he grunted, and then spun around to take an angry swipe at the turf. After a reload, his third shot rolled through the back of the green, and he couldn’t hole his chip shot for a deflating bogey.
Woods managed to get up and down from the greenside bunker on 18 to shoot 66 – three shots better than Garcia’s 69 – and now he sits four shots off Jim Furyk’s lead heading into the final round.
“I fought back today,” he said, “which was not easy to do. Today was a tough round, but I got myself back within striking distance.”
With that two-shot penalty looming larger than ever.