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Gunning for Garcia

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Rob Hodgetts | 13:47 UK time, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Sergio Garcia has a new putter, seems to have mended his broken heart and fortunately for him (not that he sees it that way) is still the best player in the world never to have won a major.

Being the best at something is nothing to be sniffed at, especially if you've been struggling.

But this is one honour that has negative connotations and which every incumbent wants to shift on as quickly as possible.

The 29-year-old Spaniard has had his chances to win a host of majors - he's been second three times in 13 top-10 major finishes.

But he knows his career is in danger of being defined not by what he has won, but by what he has not.

The Open, though, presents arguably his best chance of redemption and there would be no more popular winner in Ayrshire this week.

It's his favourite major and six of those top 10s have come on the links courses of Britain.
The UK and Irish public have taken him to their hearts ever since he won the British amateur title in 1998, but mainly for his Open near misses and his inspiring Ryder Cup performances.

"I always loved everything about the Open," said Garcia in his pre-tournament news conference at Turnberry.

"Not only the courses and everything but the people and how well they've treated me throughout my career. I feel the support they give me is just amazing and that really helps me to kind of push myself to a higher level and to try harder. I'm thrilled and I'm looking forward to it."

Garcia is still haunted by - make that the press won't let him forget - the Open that got away at Carnoustie in 2007.

He led after the first three rounds, taking a three-shot cushion into the final day, only to lose out to Padraig Harrington in a play-off after missing a putt for the title in regulation play.

Garcia was visibly distraught afterwards and fuelled his reputation for blaming his bad luck in the post-tournament news conference, though paradoxically his frailty at yet another missed chance endeared him further to the fans.

Harrington was again Garcia's nemesis last August when he pipped the Spaniard into second for the USPGA title. But by November, Garcia had risen to number two in the world behind the injured Tiger Woods.

Since then, he has struggled for form and focus after his relationship with Greg Norman's daughter Morgan-Leigh broke down, but following a 10th at the US Open he says he is happier and ready to concentrate on golf.

"My game is getting better," he said. "We're working on making sure my swing stays in front of me. But I had a good practice at home last week and yesterday I hit the ball well so that's very positive."

Sergio Garcia practising at Turnberry

To watch Garcia in full flow is intoxicating. He drives long and gun-barrel straight off the tee, and fires an endless array of stunning iron shots in close time after time.

"He is such a glorious striker of the ball," said BBC Sport golf commentator Ken Brown.

"Through the golf ball, Sergio Garcia is the best in the world. From a foot short of it to a foot after it, he is just the dream ticket.

"He loves playing all the shots required for links golf and if he comes in in an inspired mood and gets the ball running for him he will be a factor.

"But he has got to have his head on. If you're not feeling 100% mentally, somewhere along the line you're going to get caught out."

If there is a question mark, it's his putting, which often disintegrates when the pressure is on.

Going into the final round one adrift of playing partner Woods in the final group at Hoylake in 2006, Garcia's confidence on the greens evaporated as quickly as he had roared up the leaderboard with a 65 the day before.

He ended fifth, missing out again to Woods, who had pipped him for the 1999 USPGA title and who beat him into fourth in the 2002 US Open at Bethpage.

"Putting is the department of his game that's least consistently good," said Brown.

"But a bit like Colin Montgomerie, he hasn't got a break at the right time and is far too good a player not to have won a major at this stage of his career."

Probably fearing a grilling over his lack of major success, Garcia held back during the early part of his news conference.

But a glimmer of the old ebullient Garcia, seen at its best after a victorious Ryder Cup, emerged towards the end as he realised he was getting an easy ride.

One reporter began, "Sergio, looking back..." at which point Garcia immediately span around to face the wall behind him.

And to the question: "Where would you rank your putting now, from one to 10?" he fired back "15".

"Funnily enough throughout the last four months the putter has been one of my best clubs," he added. "I got a nice new Rossa putter that feels really, really good."

Garcia, more than anyone, is painfully aware what has gone before, but he is still proud of what he has achieved so far.

"Not many people can say they have been number two player in the world at their sport," said Garcia. "So I'm pretty happy with that.

"There are moments where you feel like you've been maybe a bit unlucky. We all have our good breaks and bad breaks. It's just getting them at the right time.

"I know they say second is the first loser, but I'd rather be the first loser than the 39th."

If he ends up as first winner on Sunday Turnberry will turn upside-down, and we'll have to annoint a new best player never to have won a major.

The press conference should be a laugh, too.

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  • Comment number 1.

    Why are you so enamored with Garcia???? Many might say Adam Scott is the best without a major. No question that Sergio is a great ball-striker, Greater ego, and mediocre putter. He certeinly isn't a closer!

  • Comment number 2.

    Renowed losers are always popular with the crowds, look at the joy when Ivanisevic won Wimbledon or the popularity Jimmy White still has in snooker.

    The only exception would be if he was British, then he would be slated by the media as a choker.

  • Comment number 3.

    Adam Scott the best player not to have won a major??
    He's never come anywhere near and chokes continuously in run of the mill tournaments.
    At least Garcia has come close and genuinley been unlucky rather than bottled it. He'll get there.

  • Comment number 4.

    His new putter needs to work wonders on him. Yes Garcia is one of the greatest ball strikers in the game at the minute, however his putting has been poor. Garcia will probably win a Major but I don't think it will come at the Open.

  • Comment number 5.

    i don't think there is any rush for Garcia to win a major...he shouldn't be feeling much's not as if he's Monty's age or anything he's still quite young. Harrington didn't win a major till he was 37, now he's got 3 majors a year a half later. There will be plently of oppurtunites for Garcia to win in the future in which one of those could be this Sunday but in my oponion there is no need to get concerned that Garcia won't win a major, he's to good a player for that.

  • Comment number 6.

    I have been to the Players Championship a number of times, and the player who I enjoy watching the most is Garcia. His ball striking is phenomenal. His driving is majestic, and for a relatively small guy he generates incredible power. I dont think he is a choker at all. Sure his putting is not his best part of his game, but if it were reversed his driving the weak part and putting the good part, giving equal results, he would not be deemed a choker. He was world number 2 for golds sake.

    He is an outstanding player that truly needs a little luck. As one muppet said before, The more I practiced the luckier I got - well I only buy part of that. There are many I hit wonders in Golf who win majors by getting very lucky and others just not performing at the highest standards on that day. Curtis, Micheel, Hamilton, Beem, Lawrie What about Ogilvy!! He needed 25 players to fall apart, by various forms of golf suicide

    Garcia missed an 8 footer to win the British open well struck putt that on another day would have fallen. People forget Harrington choked, when he pushed a drive and duffed his approach. He did well to even get up and down to force the playoff. At the PGA Harrington nailed putts on the back nine that are 1 in 10 chances. Even on 18 he drained a 25 footer, which the stats show are made 6% of the time (thank Bob Kostas for that figure!). Obviously you need to be in position, but man he got LUCKY..

    The comment about Adam Scott was surely a joke. There are many players better than Adam who have not one a major. He recently purchased Leer Jet to meet the demands of his commercial interests, and since then has slipped to 43rd in the world. I think he should focus on the golf !! There are a group of women I have seen a few times at the Players following Adam they name themselves Scotties Hotties so its not all bad for Adam!

  • Comment number 7.

    why does the blog remove the dashes!

  • Comment number 8.

    "Even on 18 he drained a 25 footer, which the stats show are made 6% of the time (thank Bob Kostas for that figure!). Obviously you need to be in position, but man he got LUCKY.."

    Harrington was not lucky in the PGA, he was inspired. Sinking putts when the heat is on is what separates great players from good players.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think anyone who thinks Harrington has been lucky to win majors is not giving him the credit he has earned and now deserves. We know an element of luck is needed to get you through sometimes but 3 major wins is the mark of a great player and harrington is certainly that.

  • Comment number 10.

    With Tiger coming back to form and Sergio apparently happy with a putter in hand this could, maybe just maybe, be one very special week.

    Come on Sergio!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    BMACO1981.. go watch the PGA back 9 again... he could be there all day and not make that many single putts from those distances. There was a putt on 15 that was in 3 putt range and he holed it. You call it inspired. I call it luck. Garcia hit the flag on 16, rolled 15 feet away. I call that unlucky.

    Don't get me wrong - obviously Harrington is a great player but all victories came with luck on his side, or no luck on someone else part. And sure, that's golf...

    Check out this link.
    (Wikipedia search major champions if the link is removed)

    Interesting to see so many 'great' players with only one major. I am not an huge advocate of you have to win a major or multiple to ge a great player, or go down in history as such. John Daly won 2 - one as a last minute qualifier. Anybody can win one, even 2. Daly and Cabrera can vouch for that...

  • Comment number 12.

    Padraig is lucky to have won 3 majors - one would be about right for a golfer of his ability - Garcia needs to win one soon, otherwise he probably never will - but then again if he DOES win one soon, he will no doubt go on to win maybe 4 or 5

  • Comment number 13.

    I hope Sergio can win a major. Undoubtedly he is a very good player, but the fact that he is still to win major must be a burden. Right or wrong when we look back at sporting careers we look at hard facts, and hence coming second place will always be remembered as not winning.
    That is why Tiger is so good. He has backed his talents with an ability to win and that is what marks out truely great players.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Open is the major that Garcia is most likely to win because it calls for more variety of shots than the other 3 majors. Also the greens in the Open tend to be slightly slower than American greens.

    So there is less emphasis on putting - hence Garcia has never particularly shone at the Masters.

    Garcia can hit wonderful low punched shots, a skill which many of them are not entirely comfortable.

    Garcia was unlucky at the end at Carnoustie (he hit a good putt that missed by fractions) and also played well at the US PGA.

  • Comment number 15.

    "Padraig is lucky to have won 3 majors - one would be about right for a golfer of his ability"

    Harrington has won 3 majors because he's able to deliver the goods when it matters most. Who gives a stuff about "ability" - golf is about nerve + determination and Harrington has those qualities in spades. I love Garcia as a player but it's not because of luck that he's failed to win a major, it's because he's a very weak putter.

  • Comment number 16.

    "BMACO1981.. go watch the PGA back 9 again... he could be there all day and not make that many single putts from those distances. There was a putt on 15 that was in 3 putt range and he holed it. You call it inspired. I call it luck."

    But.. he did the same thing at Carnoustie and at Birkdale, the guy is just a great putter when the chips are down. Was Tiger Woods lucky to sink that 10 footer to get into the play-off with Rocco Mediate last year? No, he just sinks putts when he needs to.

  • Comment number 17.

    The chips have been down for Padraig the last 5 tournaments where he has failed to make the cut! I agree he can be a good putter, however he is 136th on the pga putts per GIR this year.

    I think Tiger WAS lucky to get into that playoff. That putt had a good a chance staying out as going in. Tiger doesn't always make them either. He just gives himself chances in every tournament.

    We can't really compare anyone to Tiger - it is not his putts on the final hole that make him player he is - it is the hole in between that he has done amazing things just to stay in contention. Last years Arnie tournament he hit water during the 3rd round 18th hole. From 180 over water he sticks it to 15 feet and makes the putt.

    " I love Garcia as a player but it's not because of luck that he's failed to win a major, it's because he's a very weak putter. "

    He has had 6 top 10's at the Open. You don't get that from weak putting. He was half a roll away from winning one. If that had gone in would he suddenly become a great putter??

  • Comment number 18.

    Nice piece Rob; I think one of the reasons Sergio hasn't won any of the other majors is because of the negative pressure applied by the American press who for some reason love to hate him and, hence, he gets little support from the fans.

    Winning The Open won't change much in that regard, but it might give him the confidence to overcome the negative vibes from Johnny Miller et al and begin to do himself justice in the States.

  • Comment number 19.

    somear says, "Anybody can win one, even 2."

    Anybody who would write this sentence knows very little about the game of golf.

  • Comment number 20.

    powerfulKiki, I am not sure what about that statement has anything to do with my knowledge of golf. It is my opinion that any golfer, no matter what his rankings, can win a major. Look at the list of one time winners to validate. Any golfer can have his best tournament during a major. Timing is everything. I personnally think too much is placed on a major. There are some PGA tour events that have the same quality fields and winning one of those tournaments is sometimes harder.


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