Garcia receives hero's welcome at The Players

By Ryan LavnerMay 10, 2017, 7:23 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Heckled for much of his PGA Tour career, Sergio Garcia received a hero’s welcome Wednesday at The Players.

During a nine-hole practice round, he soaked in the endless adulation of the fans, acknowledging each and every cheer of “Sergio!” and “Congratulations on the Masters!” with a smile or a wave. The rope line between the 17th green and 18th tee was jammed with kids, and Garcia patted their heads and grabbed their hands and tenderly touched their faces.

Everyone loves a winner.

Garcia is returning to work 31 days after his life changed in unimaginable ways. No longer is he the best player without a major. No longer is he the petulant brat who waits for the worst. No, he’s now the proud owner of the green jacket; a competitor whose résumé now includes a major among his 31 career titles; and a man who is proud of his career-long perseverance and yet humbled by the outpouring of support from his peers.

“They were so pleased for me,” Garcia said. “It almost feels like they wanted me to win it more than I did.”

Sure, there have been some incredible, pinch-me moments over the past few weeks, none better than when he was part of the ceremonial kickoff for El Clasico, the Spanish League match between his beloved Real Madrid and Barcelona, where 90,000 delirious soccer fans chanted his name. But the part that touched him most was when he realized how popular his victory seemed to be, both around the world and inside the locker room.   

Garcia’s reputation among his peers has always been at odds with how the general sports fan viewed him, their perception perhaps tainted by scenes of the Spaniard spitting into the cup or whining about Tiger Woods or blaming the golf gods. Here at TPC Sawgrass, where Garcia has a win (2008) and four other top-5s, the treatment toward him has been particularly brutal, with spectators coughing in his downswing and delighting in his occasional misery. Indeed, for as much credit as his sublime ball-striking deserves, his best quality has always been his resilience – his willingness to put himself in position to get his heart broken once again.

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“The only thing I could do,” he said, “was wait for the right time to get it done.”

That moment came Sunday at the Masters, of course, when he birdied 14, eagled 15 and made birdie on the first playoff hole to put away Justin Rose and complete the best kind of sports story, one of redemption. Overwhelmed, Garcia unleashed a primal scream and punched the green with his fist and blew kisses to the crowd.

Back at his rental house in Augusta, McIlroy, one of Garcia’s closest friends, was moved to tears.

Watching the winning putt, fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm had goosebumps.

“To see the emotion and satisfaction of getting it done,” Rahm said, “you could see it on his face. When I watched it, I could sense it: Finally, the wait is over.”

Jordan Spieth was one of hundreds of players to reach out to Garcia via text. His message read: Welcome to the Masters club. We’re proud to have a great champion in our locker room.

No, he couldn’t relate to Garcia’s 0-for-73 start in the majors, to his years of torment. (After all, he had won in his ninth Grand Slam appearance.) But he could imagine the relief Garcia must have felt.

“That’s got to be one heck of a feeling,” Spieth said. “To go through that, the chip on his shoulder for so many years … he’s got to walk around with a smile on his face for the next couple of years, just like, I told you so.” 

Spieth has seen firsthand the abuse that Garcia has absorbed over the years – the jeers at the Ryder Cups in the States, the jabs at the majors.

“There’s a lot of haters that were put down with that win,” Spieth said. “That’s not why we do what we do, but it’s kind of nice to have that, I’m sure, from his perspective.”

Garcia has little interest in revisiting those uncomfortable moments, mostly because he’s moved on, because it doesn’t matter now. His on-course attitude, how he responds to adversity, continues to improve – a shift that can largely be attributed to his fiancée, Angela Akins, whom Garcia is set to marry in July.

For years, Garcia was a sports psychologist’s dream, a megastar who would sulk and blame others for his misfortune. Now, he seems completely at ease, as if a 73-pound weight has been lifted. All throughout the round Wednesday, he posed for selfies and laughed and smiled easily. He clearly was relishing his first week as a fan favorite.

“You see his happiness level is through the roof,” Rahm said. “He’s accomplished a lifelong dream, and it’s something you can’t copy or imagine. You have to see it and experience it yourself. To see it in him, it’s a game-changer for his life.” 

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

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In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.