Controversy causes a stir in Woods-Garcia pairing
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla.–It took less than two holes for controversy to stir in the Tiger Woods-Sergio Garcia final twosome in The Players’ third round Saturday. And by the end of the long, weather-delayed day, you could cut the tension between the two with a 1-iron, if anybody can find a 1-iron anymore.
TPC Sawgrass doesn’t get this frosty when the temperature drops below 32 degrees. That was particularly the case when a cold war of words filled the air after play was halted with the pair on No. 15, tied for second with Henrik Stenson at 10 under par, two shots behind little-known David Lingmerth.
The problem between the two longtime adversaries began on the par-5 No. 2 when Woods, on pine straw in the left trees, pulled a 5-wood out of his bag. Spectators circled around him cheered loudly, clearly liking that he would try to get through a low opening under the trees with a go-for-broke style.
Problem was, Garcia said the cheers came in the middle of his swing, which sent his ball from the fairway to far right into trees. His punched third shot failed to reach the green and he missed an 8-foot par putt, making bogey to Woods’ scrambling birdie.
Garcia wasn’t happy then, during the delay or after play was stopped just before 8 p.m.
"I wouldn't say he didn't see that I was ready, but you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit,” the 2008 Players champion told NBC during the delay. “Right as I was on top of the backswing, he pulled a 5-wood or 3-wood out of the rough and, obviously, everybody started screaming, so that didn't help very much.
“It was unfortunate. I might have hit it there if nothing happens, you never know. If I hit a good shot there and make a birdie, it gets my day started in a bit of a different way.”
Garcia further said he tries to be careful not to bother other players. That clearly implied he thought Woods wasn’t careful.
For certain, Woods was familiar with Garcia’s comments by the time they resumed play almost a couple hours later. Little wonder Woods said the two didn’t do a lot of talking with each other on the course.
“Obviously he doesn’t know all the facts,” Woods said after play was stopped for the day. “The marshals said he had already hit, so I pulled the club.”
In another interview a couple of minutes later outside the TPC clubhouse, Woods said, “I heard his comments. It’s not surprising he’s complaining about something.”
Informed of Woods’ reference to complaining, Garcia said, “That’s fine. At least I’m true to myself. I know what I’m doing. He can do whatever he wants.”
The two are scheduled to complete the last four holes of their contentious third round together starting at 7:10 a.m. Sunday. And if the scoreboard doesn’t change, the pair would be grouped together in Sunday’s final round.
In the six full holes they played before the horn blew at 4:09 p.m. because of lightning in the area, Woods hardly had his best stuff while making a birdie and a bogey.
Woods had only one birdie attempt inside of 40 feet on those opening half dozen – a 10-footer he made at No. 2 after hitting a 40-yard bunker shot right of the green. Garcia hit approach shots closer to the hole on five of the first six, and again the exception was at the second.
Woods bogeyed the next hole, the 152-yard third, when he three-putted from 39 feet after missing a 4-footer. Woods later missed birdie putts of nine and 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 11, respectively.
Garcia, meanwhile, was tied for the lead until he bogeyed another par 5, the 11th, after a poor pitch. He regained a share with a birdie putt from 4 1/2 feet at 13 but went bunker to bunker in bogeying 14.
Woods has a 12-3-4 record against Garcia in the 19 times they have been grouped together on the PGA Tour. Woods is 6-0 against the Spaniard on weekends, winning the tournament each time. Garcia last beat Woods head-to-head in 2006.
But none of those meetings had what Saturday served: Cold shoulders and spicy words.