2004: PGA Tour - Complete makeover: Garcia a winner again

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Irving, Texas

Sergio Garcia won a tournament and finished in the top 10 in all four major championships in 2002. He had a career-high nine top 10s that year. Then he decided to overhaul his swing under the tutelage of his golf professional father, Victor.

First there was pain. Last year he dropped from 12th to 95th in PGA Tour earnings, missed eight cuts and had only two top 10s.

Now there is validation. Garcia’s performance in winning the EDS Byron Nelson Championship showed that not only is his ball-striking better than ever, it is U.S. Open ready. He led the Nelson in greens in regulation (81.9 percent); tied for sixth in driving accuracy, better than usual for a power player; and went on to defeat 2001 Nelson winner Robert Damron and Dudley Hart with a par on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff after they tied at 10-under-par 270.

Garcia, 24, won the short-field Nedbank Challenge in November in South Africa, but the Nelson was his first PGA Tour victory in more than 29 months. The triumph was fueled by a third-round 65 in which he hit all 18 greens and 13 of 14 fairways while relying on a slight fade. That seems to indicate his tamed-down swing is set close to autopilot, something that bodes well for his chances at the U.S. Open June 17-20 at Shinnecock Hills.

“Definitely hitting it nicely helps, especially more at a U.S. Open,” Garcia said after shooting 66-68-65-71 and watching his playoff opponents fail to par the 18th hole at the TPC at Las Colinas. “It’s crucial to drive it well there. One reason I love the majors so much is they’re not so much of a putting shootout. It makes me relax a little more. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Garcia used to take the club back more outside, lay it off and come down with a lot of lag. Now he takes it back more on line, has a bigger arc, aims more down the target line at the top and has less lag coming down.

“The lag is something I’m always going to have,” Garcia said. “It’s my signature move. It’s something that is not going to go away, but it’s definitely going to get smaller as time goes by.”

He said he started to feel comfortable with the new action last October. He says “everything is smoother . . . easier.” Results confirm that. Clearly his misses are better. This year he has two other top 10s and hasn’t missed a cut in nine starts. That includes a tie for fourth at the Masters, where he played the last 12 holes of a closing 66 in 8 under.

“It’s nice to see how much consistency I’ve gotten from all that practicing,” said Garcia, who owns four Tour triumphs in five years. “It’s just a matter of waiting for it. Now I’m just working hard on my putting and waiting for it to happen. If I get more consistency with my putting, then it should be fun to watch.”

Garcia often has been held back by average putting in the past, particularly from 10 to 15 feet. He ranked only 70th out of the 80 Nelson cut-makers in distance of total putts made, but this time it didn’t matter. He said his putting problems have more to do with lower than desired confidence than mechanics, though he did pour in a key 12-footer to save par on No. 12 Sunday.

Garcia began the final round with a two-stroke lead over Jerry Kelly and won despite making two bogeys and no birdies after the seventh hole. But he did par the last hole to get into overtime despite being heckled on the 18th fairway. He said someone yelled, “Sergio’s not going to win!” Garcia didn’t even look up.

Damron holed a 182-yard 7-iron shot on15 to close with 66 and Hart birdied three of the last five holes for a 67 to tie. Garcia fell out of the sole lead when he drove near a tree in right rough and bogeyed 15. Then he missed a 10-footer for birdie at the par-5 16th.

Three players – Tim Herron, Duffy Waldorf and world No. 1 Tiger Woods – finished a shot out of the playoff, Woods for the second time in as many weeks. Herron closed with 64 but missed a 3-footer at 16. Waldorf rinsed his tee shot off the rocks and took bogey at the par-3 17th. And midway leader Woods, who started Sunday three back, challenged despite continuing to struggle with driving accuracy.

Woods missed 16 of his last 19 fairways and hit only 41 percent for the week, but he putted well throughout. He needed to birdie the 72nd hole to get into the playoff but drove into left rough and had to punch out short en route to a scrambling par.

Garcia won by two-putting for par from 33 feet on the extra hole. Hart – whose tie for fourth last month at the Shell Houston Open pushed his medical extension to year’s end – drove into left rough, hit a 9-iron into rough over the green, pitched short and made double bogey. Damron three-putted from 55 feet, pulling a 4-foot par attempt.

“I knew it broke, but I didn’t trust it,” Damron said. “I started it inside right but gave it a little help . . . a little pull. I just butchered it is all. But hopefully it’s something to learn from.”

Garcia, meanwhile, was hoping the Nelson serves as a spark.

“This,” he said, “is a boost of confidence. I’m going to keep on enjoying it.”

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