If Garcia can quiet putting demons for a day at Players, look out

If Garcia can quiet putting demons for a day at Players, look out

Uncategorized

If Garcia can quiet putting demons for a day at Players, look out

By

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Bobby Locke, Dave Stockton, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw, Brad Faxon, Loren Roberts and for Tiger Woods in his prime, the putter might well have been a paint brush, wielded in true artistic fashion, its pace smooth, melodic and flowing. Picture the way a conductor gently waves the baton to lead an orchestra through a slow composition.

For other golfers, that 34-inch steel-shafted instrument in their hands that is assigned to get a little white ball to somehow disappear into a little hole, well, it could double as a roofing hammer. Or a thick-handled ax.

At The Players Championship, Sergio Garcia sits only two shots out of the lead heading into Sunday, and the final round should be a wild shootout. With 18 holes to play on the most democratic course of all, the tournament is wide open; 25 players are within four shots of the lead. Garcia has more experience than most. On a leaderboard that doesn’t feature a single major winner among its top 10, Garcia stands out with his 25 worldwide victories (including eight on the PGA Tour), seven Ryder Cup appearances and nearly $40 million in career PGA Tour earnings. Only Bill Haas, the 2011 FedEx Cup champion who is tied for second at 9-under 207, one shot behind leader Chris Kirk, comes remotely close.

Through 54 holes, no player in the tournament has struck the ball with as much authority as Garcia, who has outdistanced his opposition in the strokes gained tee-to-green category. Saturday he missed only one fairway, and he hasn’t hit fewer than 13 greens in regulation in any of his rounds. Encouraging, right?

Then again, nobody has gotten less out of his game this week than the 35-year-old Spaniard. Seventy-five players made the cut this week at TPC Sawgrass, and care to guess where Garcia ranks in strokes gained putting? He’s 75th, or dead rat last. He’s tried a conventional grip, tried returning to the claw. On Saturday, he used the putter he’d wielded with little success on Thursday, mostly because the TaylorMade prototype he used a day earlier was snapped into two pieces and deposited into a garbage can outside the TPC clubhouse after Round 2.

(Garcia would be the first to admit it wasn’t the fault of the “arrow,” but the one trying to shoot it.)

“It’s always exciting to be up there (near the lead), but at the same time, obviously you look back at these first three days and I feel like I easily left an average of three shots out there every round,” Garcia said. (An alarming stat: He has missed seven putts of 7 feet or less, and has missed 14 putts of 10 feet or less.)

“So, you cannot think what could have been, but it is what it is.”

Ah, yes, it is what it is. With Garcia, what, exactly, is it? On the wall just outside the main interview room at TPC Sawgrass, a lineup of great Players champions through the years includes a snapshot of a young, energized Garcia when he won here in 2008. He is punching the air and shouting passionately after coming from behind to beat Paul Goydos in a playoff on a firm, fast, difficult track, his closing 71 that year enough to accomplish the job.

So what happened to that guy? At times, he was a pure matador, confident and brash, never too concerned if he nudged his fellow players with his sword. Saturday, having just finished a third-round 67 that included an eagle, five birdies and only two bogeys, he nonetheless appeared to be a man resigned to sign over his Sunday fate to the golf gods. Can he charge from behind? Can he play mistake-free? Can he win?

Or might he putt with the grip end of his putter?

“I’ve just got to deal with it and try to do the best with what I have,” Garcia said. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Thus far, it’s been a rather lackluster 2015 for Garcia. He tied for fourth at Riviera in late February, and since, the only time he’s finished inside the top 30 came at the Masters, where he didn’t seem to to be a man who wanted to be there. He tied for 17th at Augusta, though he gave himself little chance to contend.

The reality is this: There are grinders on Tour who would kill for Garcia’s immense talents. He’s long and straight off the tee and can launch iron shots into the heavens that are uncanny in their accuracy. The Players Stadium Course, which puts a premium on pinpoint ballstriking, is the perfect venue for him.

He also can be honest – brutally so at times – and in doing so, he comes across as a man so self-critical that he holds himself back from achieving greater things. The only thing he ever seems positive about is that somewhere, something will go wrong, some demons will appear and he’ll disappear into the vapor. Tony Robbins he’s not. (Paging Bob Rotella: Could you please pick up the courtesy phone for a quick chat on Line 2?)

“I think Sergio is hard on himself,” said World No. 1 Rory McIlroy, Garcia’s Ryder Cup teammate. “… I mean, there’s a reason he gets so down on himself, because he is so talented and he knows what he can achieve and he knows how good he can be.

“I get frustrated with myself, but I feel I can just let it go maybe a little easier. Maybe that Latin blood in there sort of gets him a little fired up.”

It does, and at times he simply bleeds too much of it. Look up and down that leaderboard this Sunday morning, and try to think of a candidate in the lead pack capable of producing the magical, birdie-filled, mistake-free round to catch a leader, a round in the ilk of that memorable closing 64 that Davis Love III orchestrated to win his second Players a dozen years ago.

Could Garcia do that? There are a lot of people who believe he can. There’s one guy who doesn’t seem so sure.

He’s the one who matters most.

Latest

More Golfweek
Home