AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Sergio Garcia does not have the right kind of game to win the Masters. This was thought to be an irrefutable fact within the world of professional golf. He doesn’t hit the ball high enough, doesn’t putt well enough and isn’t mentally long-suffering enough to ever wear green at Augusta National in April.
He has more or less said this over the years. His hangdog expression and generally unpleasant attitude towards this magnificent tournament has rendered him effectively useless come tournament time. Garcia’s best finish in Masters history came in 2004. He only has one top-10 finish since then.
What we didn’t know, however, is that when the wind howls in north Georgia and a Masters turns into an Open, well, Sergio Garcia is perfectly suited for that.
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Garcia turned in a 69 on Friday to follow up his bogey-free 71 on Thursday to get to 4 under on the week and share the lead with Charley Hoffman, Rickie Fowler and Thomas Pieters at the halfway mark.
The Spaniard teed off on Friday morning in a pairing with Shane Lowry and pal Lee Westwood. A European trio dressed similarly seemed primed for a nice stroll among the patrons at the epicenter of the golf world.
Garcia tipped his hit towards those gathered around the first tee and cut the air with a heat-seeking missile to kick off his second round.
Garcia’s ball flight looks like the hockey stick profit margin of a Silicon Valley startup. It starts out low like a bullet fired five feet off the ground and stays that way for a long time before taking off at the very end and rising to its apex. Then it harmlessly falls in the heart of the fairway.
That’s exactly what happened on the first hole on Friday, which propelled the Spaniard to the first of three straight birdies to start his round and a 33 on the first nine. After a bizarre scoring snafu in which it was thought he played a provisional ball on the 10th hole -- he was given a triple bogey on the scoreboard which was later changed to a bogey -- Garcia shot a 36 on the back for a 3-under 69 on the day.
“Obviously, I wanted to see if I could shoot under par again,” said Garcia. “I would have taken 1‑under par before I started because the day was at least as tough as [Thursday]. And we saw how difficult it was [Thursday].
“When I started like that [with three straight birdies], and then I started hitting some really good shots and rolling in some good putts here and there, I thought that, ‘Yeah, maybe I could shoot 3‑ or 4‑under, and that would be obviously amazing.’ So I’m very pleased with my round overall.”
Garcia has leveraged the weather to his advantage this week. On a pair of days that have threatened to bend the August National trees in half, high ball hitters have felt the brunt of Mother Nature’s unforgiving hand. Garcia has simply flown his ball under the chaos of it all and given himself birdie shots and stress-free pars. He went 21 holes before making his first bogey.
Ironically, it has been a man who has struggled over the course of his career to remain emotionally consistent who has seemed calmest of all during a tense week on the course at this Masters.
Garcia giggled with Westwood and acknowledged a gallery that seemed too emotionally fragile in regards to his career to fully buy in. The smattering of cheers Garcia walked through all day said what the patrons could not: “We’re scared to get too close yet again.”
Garcia of course has 22 top 10s all time at major championships without a win. One of his partners on Thursday and Friday, Westwood is also on that list with 18 himself. They have a combined 148 starts at majors with no wins.
That could change this week, though, at the most unlikely place for Garcia. Unfortunately for him, the weather is supposed to calm down on the weekend. The wind is supposed to mellow.
Can Garcia keep pressing into the most pressure-packed final 36 holes of all? That will be a fascinating narrative as this week rips on.
“Being a part of a major, it’s exciting already,” said Garcia. “Having a chance is the best thing, and winning it, I’m sure it’s amazing. But for me, I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to be healthy; that I’ve been able to play so many majors in a row. I don’t even know how many there are, but so many majors in a row and giving myself a lot of chances to win them. That for me is already a win, and then, you know, we can put the cherry on top, that would be even better. “
There was a moment, though, that hit me. As everyone knows, Garcia is in love and getting married soon. He seems at peace with his career even if the rest of us are not. He seems to not need a major to complete him. His career path has come full circle.
“I think that I’m a little bit calmer now,” said Garcia. “I think that I’m working on trying to accept things, like I said earlier, which can happen here and can happen anywhere. It’s part of golf. It’s not easy. It’s much easier to say than to do it. But that’s the challenge we always have, you know, making sure that you accept the bad moments or the bad breaks with the good ones, and kind of move on.”
As I watched Garcia traipse towards his ball on the 7th hole a cloudless, cool day at Augusta National, all of this hit me. The patrons closed in on the walkway behind and his caddie walked in front. Garcia was all alone with nothing to think about but the past and his future. He would go on to fist pump a sliding par save before he walked on to the next hole and then to the second nine.
But as he walked up No. 7 all by his lonesome, I couldn’t help but think about all the years and millions of dollars he’s put away. I couldn’t help but think about the heartbreak and the ball-striking or the misery and Ryder Cup triumph.
As Garcia walked singularly towards the next shot, I couldn’t help but think about how that march to whatever the future holds is his and his alone to make.