Resurgence for Sergio?

By John HawkinsJune 29, 2011, 5:21 pm

My first personal experience with Sergio Garcia was at the 1999 Byron Nelson Championship – Sergio’s U.S. debut and second event as a professional. Perhaps 150 kids, many of them teenage girls, gathered on the path from the 18th green to the clubhouse that Sunday afternoon, emitting a commotion seldom seen or heard at a boring old golf tournament.

Garcia seemed to understand what all the fuss was about and instinctively reveled in the attention, signing and posing for the better part of an hour before heading downstairs to the locker room. In our two or three minutes together, he must have called me “sir” five times. At the age of 19, Sergio demonstrated a wealth of magnetism unlike any young player I’d covered, and with Tiger Woods grinding away at swing changes in the spring of ’99, the premise of two charismatic superstars leaping into a longstanding rivalry could not have gifted pro golf with a brighter horizon as the century came to a close.

Barely three months later, Sergio would chase down Woods on the back nine at the PGA Championship, hitting that unforgettable recovery shot from behind a tree, then scampering up the fairway to watch it tumble onto the green. It’s certainly no coincidence that Tiger began his best-ever stretch of golf (2000) shortly after Garcia became so noticeable in his rear-view mirror, after David Duval had unseated him atop the world ranking and Vijay Singh won the 2000 Masters.

I would get to know Garcia fairly well over the next several years – the longest stretch of quality time occurred at the now-defunct Southern Open. Sergio’s love of fast cars made for a sexy theme to a feature I was writing at the time, so we rented a Ferrari and brought it to Callaway Gardens. For reasons still unknown, I agreed to sit in the passenger seat while Garcia whipped around the back roads of Georgia at speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour. Not even an ornery Steve Williams has scared me more.

My catalog of Sergio memories seems relevant again now that Garcia seems to have revived his dormant career. He has put himself in contention after 36 holes three times in 2011, which doesn’t mean much, but he did play well at the U.S. Open, then lost in a playoff last week on the European Tour, which gets him back into the British Open. It was at Carnoustie in 2007 when things really began turning in the wrong direction, when the dashing young Spaniard with the matinee-idol smile suffered the most excruciating of his tough losses.

Yes, he would notch the biggest (and last) of his seven PGA Tour victories at The Players Championship the following May, but Sergio Garcia was born to be a national champion, and that hasn’t happened. The irrepressible grin has long since vanished beneath a pile of disappointment.

Garcia led by three after 54 holes at Carnoustie, which caused him to try a smart-conservative route to the claret jug. Alas, he was dusted by Padraig Harrington, who actually double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to let Sergio into a playoff.

Harrington won in overtime, then watched Sergio self-destruct down the stretch at the ’08 PGA. His competitive soul corrupted, his boyish exuberance flattened by the toll of a recent past, Garcia’s downfall will, until further notice, remain one of the great mysteries of golf’s modern era. Twelve years ago, he was Rory McIlroy and then some – a 10-time major champion in the making who never missed a fairway, chipped in twice a round and holed 15-footers with his eyes closed.

Maybe there’s some gas left in the tank.

Maybe the Guy Upstairs and his golf buddies just wanted to make a point.

Maybe Sergio Garcia can turn into Sergio Garcia again. How cool would that be?

The game needs him, and not just a little bit. Not even Woods can plead guilty to a series of cheesy beer commercials starring a fashionable young stud who flicks a pea-sized wad of paper into the navel of a bikini-clad hottie or be an authentic ladies man who arrives at the black-tie affair with all the subtlety of James Bond – and reduces the corny punch line to delicious new lows. Tiger busted out windows at the school-book depository with his 7-iron. Sergio used his 7-iron to over-club his way to the best seat at the swimming pool.

Garcia and Adam Scott are the pretty boys gone sour, but there are no expiration dates in this refrigerator. Perhaps Scott never had the stomach or the short game for superstardom. The Artist Formerly Known as El Nino, however, had it all – at least until he started missing those 4-footers. Finding pro golfers who move the needle can be tougher than plucking a thumbtack from a haystack. If nothing else, Garcia spent years causing ripples on golf’s mainstream Richter Scale.

He is probably more recognizable than he is popular, but a great big comeback would turn up both dials. A few minutes after the conclusion of the playoff at Carnoustie – eight long years after the initial meeting in Dallas – I went to see a different Sergio in a different locker room. The cramped quarters left nowhere to hide. Caddie Glenn Murray’s eyes were filled with tears, as were those of Sergio’s father, Victor. His son would walk in a few minutes later and ask me to leave, which I did, and not five seconds after I walked out the door, I heard Sergio wail loudly and painfully, like a guy stuck with the sharp end of a dagger.

In his first competitive round in the United States, Garcia shot a 62. It remains his best score ever in this country. Twelve years ago, nothing was impossible. With the aid of a little wishful thinking, nothing still is.

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Fisher becomes first in Euro Tour history to shoot 59

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2018, 11:29 am

There’s never been a sub-60 score on the European Tour, and Oliver Fisher almost went two strokes better Friday at the Portugal Masters.

Fisher’s 40-footer on the final green burned the edge, but he tapped in the short par putt to record the first 59 in tour history.   

“It feels great,” he said after getting sprayed with champagne. “It was in the back of my mind all day.”

It didn’t look like it.

The 287th-ranked player in the world, Fisher made 10 birdies, an eagle and seven pars during his magical round.

All of the other major pro tours have produced a 59 – nine times on the PGA Tour; once on the LPGA – but this was the first time that a player on the European Tour broke the sub-60 barrier. (There have been 19 rounds of 60.) Earlier this year, at the Scottish Open, Brandon Stone narrowly missed an 8-footer on the final green during the final round. This tournament has produced a few chances, as well, with both Scott Jamieson and Nicolas Colsaerts coming up just short over the past few years.

Fisher went out in 28 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, then made three birdies in a row to start the back nine. He tacked on another birdie on 15 to give himself a shot at history, then played the closing stretch in 1 under. On 16, he needed a 20-footer for par after leaving his tee shot well short of the flag. He two-putted for birdie on 17 and then coolly made par on the last, after his birdie try from 40 feet just missed on the left edge.

Two years ago, he arrived in Portugal needed a good result just to keep his card. He shot a final-round 64. 

On Friday, he made tour history.

“I kept that in the back of my mind, thinking things could be worse,” he said. 

To this point, Fisher had a forgettable season. Ranked 72nd in the Race to Dubai, he didn’t have a top-10 in a stroke-play event since late February. His last four results: MC-T71-MC-MC. He opened the Portugal Masters with a 71 and was in danger of missing the cut.

Now, improbably, he’s in position to score his second European Tour title, after capturing the 2011 Czech Open.

“I tried to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not often that we get a chance to shoot a really low one.”

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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”