AUGUSTA, Ga. – As Sergio Garcia climbed into his chair in the press conference room at Augusta National’s media center, he quipped to the assembled scribes, “You guys comfortable?”
Hey Sergio, are you?
In an exciting, baffling and ultimately rewarding Friday, Garcia jumped to the top of the Masters leaderboard. Birdies in Garcia’s first three holes pushed him forward and when first-day leader Charley Hoffman faltered later in his second round, Garcia surged to a share of the 36-hole lead.
Garcia made three more birdies against three bogeys in his remaining 15 holes to fire a 3-under 69 to reach 4 under, a mark Hoffman sits at as well despite a 75 that included five bogeys in six holes at one point. Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler eventually matched the pair in the clubhouse at 4 under.
This type of spot is nothing new for the 37-year-old Spaniard, but he hasn’t exactly shown he thrives in it. Garcia boasts 22 top-10 finishes in 73 previous major championship starts, yet – and he doesn’t need this reminder – none of them are wins.
We all know the story: The uber-talented Garcia has authored several wins on the PGA and European tours, but he remains one of the best active players without a major.
The last time Garcia was this close to the lead at Augusta through 36 holes? That would be 2012. Garcia was one off the 36-hole lead and would proceed to shoot himself out of contention with a third-round 75, claiming post-round that he’s “not good enough” to win majors and that he’d come to the conclusion that he needed “to play for second or third place.”
Garcia is confident the five-year gap has brought a significant change in his outlook.
“I probably didn’t accept things as well as I should have (that day),” Garcia said. “(But) I’ve shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one (major).”
Time isn’t totally on his side – then again golf offers plenty extended stays – but a possibly revamped Garcia is now halfway to his first.
And whatever happens, at the very least, he’ll be entertaining.
Per Golf Channel’s Justin Ray, Garcia birdied the first three holes at Augusta for the first time in his Masters career. From there a birdie, a bogey and four pars ended his front nine. By the time he reached the 10th hole, Garcia had gone from seven back at the beginning of the day to tied for the lead.
It was all exciting … but then matters got weird.
Garcia made a bogey 5 at Augusta’s 10th, or so everybody thought. A hole later, that score was adjusted to a triple-bogey 7 on the online leaderboard.
Confusion ensued. Had Garcia been penalized on 10? Was he now 1 under and falling back after sharing the lead just minutes ago?
The scoring error was confirmed after being left in the dark for roughly 45 minutes, and Garcia was indeed given a bogey 5. Garcia had reportedly hit a provisional at No. 10 but finished the hole with his original ball.
Garcia himself noticed the scoring error when he saw a leaderboard on No. 13, but he wasn’t bothered.
“The most important thing is I knew where I stood,” Garcia said. “I knew I wasn’t 1 under. I knew I was 3.”
But his entire Amen Corner would be a rollercoaster ride. After dumping a 9-iron in the front bunker at the par-3 12th, Garcia hit a miraculous sand shot from a plugged lie, as the ball lipped out on the right side of the cup.
“That was probably, I would say, hands down, the best bunker shot I’ve ever hit,” Garcia said.
Not that his reaction totally showed it. Garcia had a mini-meltdown for a couple of seconds before bursting into laughter.
His frustration almost boiled over on the par-5 13th when he hit what he called a beautiful drive and a beautiful second shot, but his ball went over the green and he’d eventually make bogey.
“Obviously there were a couple moments out there where I could have lost it a little bit,” Garcia said.
Want proof that Garcia’s outlook has taken a shift? After that testing set, he would finish with two birdies (on 15 and 17) and three pars to jump back into a share of the lead. There’s also this thing about him being engaged, to former college golfer Angela Akins, with a wedding anticipated for later this year.
Garcia says, though, that his search for greater peace on the golf course remains a project.
“I think that I’m working on trying to accept things … which can happen here and can happen anywhere,” Garcia said. “You’ve just got to realize that those things are going to happen, and if you manage to do that, then you can come out here and compete and have a chance.”
Not groundbreaking concepts, but from where Garcia’s mental game stood five years ago, this is a significant start.
Now, it’s about if he can finish. We’re comfortable, Sergio. The weekend will test how much you are.