AUGUSTA, Ga. — Prepared to contrast the course knowledge of a former champion with that of a first-time participant in The Masters, Sergio Garcia’s front-nine 32 convinced me to leave Row H of the media facility and tour the hilly back nine of Augusta National for a second time.
Like many, I have grown weary waiting on Garcia to complete the metamorphosis from the young Spaniard with promise to winner of one or more of golf’s four majors. After all, his scissor-kick-punctuated pursuit of Tiger Woods in the PGA at Medinah was almost 14 years ago.
I envy the way he strikes the ball, but empathize with his putting travails and his decision to embrace the so-called “claw” grip. The stroke worked well on Thursday, the operative word being Thursday.
In contention for two rounds at the 2012 Masters, he followed up a third-round 75 with a self-pity party and the declaration that he was not good enough to win a major. “In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place,” he said. On Thursday, he kissed that off as something said during a moment of frustration.
Before coming to the interview room, he was confident and cool on the back nine at Augusta.
Knowing the pin on No. 10 was only four steps from the right side of the green and overhanging limbs laden with pine cones, he needed to attack from the left side of the fairway. To get primo position, he smacked a tee shot that elicited “Fore on the left,” from some on the right and then turned gently into the fairway. From there, he could go at the pin. Nine feet behind the hole, his putter head swung back an inch at most and a red five went up on the scoreboards scattered around the course.
Standing on the pine needles right of No. 11, the patron with the binoculars could make out Garcia’s logo on the ball that rattled around before settling a yard from the base of a pine, on the wrong side for a right-hander. Sometimes guilty of why me, Garcia spotted the ball, but did not react and went about his business, only glancing at an aggressive and risky line. His safety-first, knee-high second found a flat spot on the left side of the fairway and his hop-hop and stop third wound up a few feet behind the hole. Again, the putt for a par — a four appreciated by fans 25 rows deep in their green Masters chairs that go for $30 in the on-site gift shop. He reciprocated with a tip of his hat and they didn’t have to move their chairs to watch him strike another solid iron off the 12th tee.
After a three-putt par on No. 13 and a tee shot 30 yards behind playing partner Adam Scott and 40 yards short of Angel Cabrera, his response was pure — a towering iron pin high left. After an animated and extended consultation with his caddie, Garcia barely missed the birdie.
Left off the tee on No. 15, Garcia had no choice but to lay up short of the pond that fronts the green on the par five. Faced with that shot, many players barely get past the crosswalk and find themselves trying to pinch a shot off a downhill lie. Garcia scooted his second all the way to the flat a few steps shy of the aqua, lobbed it behind the hole, and made another slick putt.
Despite missing the greens on the last two holes, Garcia finished par-par. Both times he made putts in the 4- to 5-foot range, the ones that can evoke a twitchy stroke when trying to finish off a 66 and a tie for the lead in The Masters or a decent round on Sunday when $2 is at stake.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is email@example.com.
Marc Leishman, Australia, 66
Sergio Garcia, Spain, 66
Dustin Johnson, U.S., 67
David Lynn, England, 68
Rickie Fowler, U.S., 68
Gonzalo Fdez-Castano, Spain, 68
Trevor Immelman, South Africa, 68
Fred Couples, U.S., 68
Matt Kuchar, U.S., 68
Jim Furyk, U.S., 69
Zach Johnson, U.S., 69
Adam Scott, Australia, 69
Tie-13. Tiger Woods, U.S., 70
Tie-23. Phil Mickelson, U.S., 81