Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2017, 7:23 pm

The first half of Masters week was about who was absent.

Tiger Woods made a brief appearance at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, then disappeared so quickly it was hard to be certain he had actually been there.

On Thursday morning, Arnold Palmer’s spirit was very much present during the opening ceremony, but the tears shed by both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as they hit their tee shots were a reminder that the Masters would have go on without him.

And then, a few hours later, came the news that the world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, wasn’t going to make it off the first tee, the victim of a fluke accident – a slip on the steps of his rented house that wrenched his back.

And so, it was left to the other 93 players to go about making history, because when the dust clears on Masters Sunday every year, someone makes history.

A year ago, it was Danny Willett, blowing past the faltering Jordan Spieth to become a Masters champion. Willett culminated a difficult 12 months since he slipped on the green jacket by beginning the tournament 6-6 on Thursday, then opened his second round with a quadruple bogey-8 on the first hole and missed the cut by a shot.

Charley Hoffman was the star the first day, shooting a miraculous 65 on a day when the scoring average was just over 75, giving him a startling four-shot lead on the field.



By Friday, Hoffman had come back to the pack and a name popped up on the leaderboard that raised eyebrows and produced murmurs and questions that had been heard often in the past: Sergio Garcia.

Bill Clinton was president in 1999 when Garcia barged onto the golf scene at age 19. He was low amateur at the Masters that year and got to share the stage during the awards ceremony with one of his boyhood heroes, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won his second Masters that year.

Four months later, as a brand new pro, he chased Tiger Woods to the finish line in the PGA Championship. A little more than a month later, he became the youngest player in Ryder Cup history and played very well the first two days as Europe built the 10-6 lead that the Americans would overcome on Sunday.

He was El Nino – the boy – and he was going to be Woods’ challenger in the 21st century. He was the Spanish successor to the legacy of Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that. Garcia was a very good player but he never lived up to the potential he had flashed as a teenager. He won on the PGA Tour; he won in Europe and around the world. He was a superb Ryder Cup player, part of five winning teams.

But the majors eluded him. He came close, barely missing a 7-foot putt at Carnoustie that would have won The Open, before losing a playoff to Pardraig Harrington. A year later, at Oakland Hills, Harrington caught him from behind to beat him at the PGA Championship. In all there were 22 top-10 finishes, but no victories. He had a Hall of Fame resume with one massive, glaring hole.

He wore the label, Best Player Never to Have Won a Major, for a while and then lost it when his game went south – notably in 2010 when he took a break from playing because he was so discouraged. He went to the Ryder Cup that year as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains, a week that turned out to be a crucial moment in his career.

“It made me realize how lucky I had been to play in so many Ryder Cups,” he said one evening last year. “It reminded me how much I loved golf, how much I enjoyed competing. I was still young – I had only just turned 30. I knew there was time for me to play well again.”

The most important part of Garcia’s epiphany during that week in Wales was realizing he’d been lucky. He had never thought that way in the past. There had always been a woe-is-me side to him, in spite of all the money he’d made; the relationships he’d had with glamorous women; the victories he’d had through the years.

That changed, not all at once, but gradually. Two years later, after a bad day at the Masters, he told reporters he didn’t think he had what it took to win a major. It was a startling comment, especially since, at 32, he was a year younger than Phil Mickelson had been when he broke through at Augusta; two years younger than Ben Hogan had been when he won his first major. At that point, many figured that the time for Garcia to win a major had passed.

There was one more low moment, the foolishly insensitive comment about Woods and fried chicken during a European Tour dinner the week after he and Woods had traded barbs at The Players Championship. The two men never liked one another – some of it was competitive, but much of it was personal.

“That was a low moment,” Garcia said. “A lot of it was because I was the one at fault. Tiger and I just never hit it off. We’re very different people. But that wasn’t an excuse for me to say something like that.”

The fact that Garcia could point the finger at himself three years later was a sign of his maturation.

He talked last Friday about how he had finally learned to accept the good and the bad on the golf course, especially at Augusta, a place that will take away just as quickly as it gives.

On Sunday, Ballesteros’s 60th birthday, Garcia backed up those comments. By the time he and Justin Rose got to the 10th tee, it was almost a certainty that one of them was going to be the Masters champion. Garcia promptly went bogey-bogey to drop two shots behind and then smacked his tee shot on 13 off a tree and into a bush, where he had to take a drop.

At that moment, it looked as if Rose might stroll to his second major title. He was in the fairway, in prime position to make birdie. Garcia had to layup with his third shot. Somehow, he got up and down for par. Somehow, Rose failed to make birdie, missing a 6-foot putt. What could have been a three- or four-shot lead was still only two.

Given life, Garcia responded as he had never responded in the past: two great shots led to a birdie at 14; two more great ones led to an eagle at 15. Suddenly, it was a tie ballgame and it stayed that way through 18, both men missing makeable putts as the pressure built.

One might have thought Garcia had again missed his chance when his 6-foot birdie putt at 18 slid right. But Rose gave him an opening with a wayward tee shot on the first playoff hole and this time Garcia’s birdie putt – when all he needed was a two-putt – found the hole and his knees buckled in disbelief. Eighteen years later, El Nino had finally grown up to be a major champion.

It was a victory greeted with cheers by virtually everyone in golf. Even Rose, as gracious in defeat as anyone could be, talked about how happy he was for Garcia.

Now, the Hall of Fame resume is complete. Now, there will be no more questions about not winning a major, about what might have been.

Last fall, after hearing chants of “no majors” throughout the weekend at Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup, Garcia said he hoped to be on the European Ryder Cup team in 2020 at Whistling Straits so he might hear a different chant.

“I’d like to hear them chant, ‘one major,’ or maybe ‘two majors,’” he said, laughing. “At the very least, I’d like one.”

He’s got it now. One major, no chants. Few have deserved a victory more.

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Finau lifts team to opening 62 on improving ankle

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 6:24 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Tony Finau continues to thrive on his injured ankle.

Playing for the first time since the Masters, where he tied for 10th despite a high-ankle sprain, Finau matched partner Daniel Summerhays with six birdies to shoot a combined 10-under 62 in fourballs Thursday at the Zurich Classic.

Finau still isn’t 100 percent, even after two weeks of rest and physical therapy. During that time he worked with doctors at the University of Utah Orthopedic Center and also the training staff with the Utah Jazz. Before the Zurich, he had played only nine holes.


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“Sometimes simplicity is huge in this game,” he said.

Partnering with Summerhays, his fellow Utah resident and a friend for more than a decade, they combined to make 12 birdies during an opening round that left them only two shots back of the early lead.

Asked afterward how his ankle felt, Finau said: “Feeling a lot better after that 62. A great remedy for something hurting is some good golf.”  

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Sources: Woods returning to Wells Fargo

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 6:07 pm

Tiger Woods is expected to return to competition at next week's Wells Fargo Championship, according to multiple Golf Channel sources. The news of Woods' participation was first reported Thursday on "Golf Central."

Woods has not played since a T-32 finish at the Masters. A winner at Quail Hollow in 2007, Woods has not made the cut there since a fourth-place showing in 2009 and has not played Wells Fargo since 2012. He missed last year's PGA Championship at Quail Hollow because of injury.

Woods has until 5 p.m. ET Friday to officially commit to next week's field. When reached for comment by GolfChannel.com, Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, explained that Woods' plans were not yet finalized.

"We don't know right now (if Woods will play)," Steinberg said. "We'll know later this afternoon. We're working on a couple things."

A trip to Charlotte would be another sign that the 42-year-old is ready to return to a customary schedule, as next week's event would be followed by Woods' expected return to The Players for the first time since 2015. Woods has already committed to the U.S. Open, which will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major victory.

After starting the year ranked No. 656 in the world, Woods is up to No. 91 in the latest world rankings. He recorded three straight top-12 finishes during the Florida swing, including a runner-up finish alongside Patrick Reed at the Valspar Championship and a T-5 finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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USGA receives more than 9,000 U.S. Open entries

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 4:31 pm

The field of contestants for golf's most democratic major has been set.

The USGA announced that it received 9,049 entries for this year's U.S. Open, with the deadline for entry expiring at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. That total includes 515 applications on the final day, 115 in the final hour and a buzzer-beater from Drew Caudill, a 32-year-old pro from Mount Vernon, Ohio, who beat the entry deadline by only 23 seconds.

This marks the seventh straight year that the USGA has received more than 9,000 entries, but the total marks the second straight year of a decline in applications. At least 9,860 players entered each year from 2013-16, topping out in 2014 when 10,127 applications were received. But last year there were 9,485 entries for Erin Hills, and this year's return to Shinnecock yielded only one more application than the USGA got in 2005.

For the vast majority of entrants, the next step is a spot in 18-hole local qualifying which begins April 30 and runs through May 17. The fortunate few advance from there to 36-hole sectional qualifiers, played May 21 in Japan and June 4 across 11 other sites in the U.S. and England.

A total of 54 players are already exempt into the 156-man field, including 12 former winners. The only remaining ways to earn an exemption from qualifying are to win either The Players or BMW PGA Championship next month, or be ranked inside the top 60 in the Official World Golf Rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The U.S. Open will be played June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., which is hosting the event for the first time since 2004.

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Report: Houston Open may move to Memorial Park in '19

By Will GrayApril 26, 2018, 3:48 pm

Still without a permanent spot on the PGA Tour schedule, the Houston Open appears to be on the move.

According to a report from the Houston Business Journal, there is a proposal in place to shift the tournament downtown in 2019, returning to Memorial Park Golf Course which previously hosted the event from 1951-1963.

While formal relocation plans have not been announced, the tournament officially reached the end of an era this week when the Golf Club of Houston, which has hosted the event since 2003, informed the Houston Golf Association that it would no longer serve as tournament host moving forward.

"We received notice this week from the Golf Club of Houston regarding the club's decision to no longer host a PGA Tour event," read an HGA statement obtained by GolfChannel.com. "Currently, the HGA's focus is on securing a long-term title sponsor. The Golf Club of Houston has been a great venue for the Houston Open dating back to 2003 and we look forward to maintaining a great relationship with the club."

Such a move would be a win for Houston mayor Sylvester Turner, who has expressed an interest in returning the tournament within city limits. The Golf Club of Houston is located in Humble, a suburb 20 miles northeast of downtown.

"This move would place the tournament on center stage in downtown Houston, creating a central location for the city to rally around," read marketing materials cited in the Business Journal report. "Houston Proud Partners of the Houston Open would have the opportunity to collaborate with the Houston Golf Association on this historic move and make a lasting statement that would be seen for generations."

The Houston Open's lineage dates back to 1946, but its future remains in question. Shell Oil ended its 26-year sponsorship of the event in 2017, and this year it was played without a title sponsor and financed in part by the HGA.

The tournament has also carved out a niche with its pre-Masters slot on the schedule, where it has been played every year but once since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007. But next year that coveted position will go to the Valero Texas Open, leaving Houston's place on a revamped 2019 schedule in question.

The Houston Open remains one of only two tournaments on the current Tour calendar without a title sponsor. Earlier this week Charles Schwab signed a four-year deal to sponsor the Fort Worth Invitational beginning in 2019, and a report this week indicates the other unsponsored event, The National, may be on the verge of moving from the Washington, D.C. area to Detroit.