Seven years later, it is easy to wonder: What does the young Spaniard see when his eyes are opened?
If he looks at the final round of last month’s British Open and is honest — “You know, I’m still quite happy with it” — then he is not seeing things clearly. Garcia had a chance for a career-defining round that warm Sunday at Royal Liverpool. It was an opportunity to deliver on the promise he first showed at the 1999 PGA Championship.
Garcia failed miserably, like he has on other occasions. This one, however, was painful to watch, and it’s inexplicable as to how he can say with a straight face anything differently.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I really enjoyed it all week. I had a lot of fun.”
Maybe Garcia was talking about the Liverpool nightlife (the young man does have a passion for pretty woman and bright lights) or having his family with him, because in no way is he at a position in his golf career where he should think it “fun” to get onto the leaderboard of a major championship. That was OK as a 19-year-old when he chased Woods and hit that dramatic shot from beneath that tree, but Garcia should be far beyond that now. He is 26. He should expect to be on the leaderboard every time he tees it up. He has got the tools to win a few of these majors, and it’s disappointing to hear him express anything but disgust for the way he folded last month.
Good gracious, perhaps Garcia forgets, but he was only one shot back at the start of the final round, yet a mere five holes later he was five back. He required 39 shots on his outward nine and trailed by seven. Maybe they never took driver’s education in Spain, but to go forward, you don’t jam it into reverse.
Earth to Sergio: That’s not good.
OK, he has won six times on the PGA Tour and his 10 international triumphs could be considered impressive. But for much the same reason why Phil Mickelson, despite a resume filled with PGA Tour wins, was criticized several years ago, Garcia faces scrutiny now. It’s all about the majors, and what is disturbing about the Spaniard is this: His final-round scoring average for the past 12 majors in which he’s made the cut is 72.66 and he’s broken 70 just once.
What’s more, Garcia has not seized upon the momentum he appeared to be building back in 2002 when he was top 10 in all four majors. It was easy to watch his play at Augusta (eighth), at Bethpage (fourth), at Muirfield (eighth), at Hazeltine (10th) that summer and assess that the time was ripe for a Garcia breakthrough.
So, what happened? Over the course of the next 15 majors, at a time when he should have been maturing and cashing in on his experience, Garcia had as many missed cuts (five) as top 10s.
It is unfair to compare Garcia to Woods, but what the heck, let’s do it. In his first 134 PGA Tour starts, Garcia has six wins and no majors. Woods, in that same stretch, had 38 wins and eight majors. Consider, as you digest those numbers, that Garcia is only four years younger than Woods, so it’s not like he’s giving away a ton of experience.
Consider, too, that there is precedence that Garcia has not been able to match.
Jack Nicklaus, for instance, was a full 10 years younger than Arnold Palmer when in 1962 as a 22-year-old he stared down the game’s icon and beat him head-to-head in a U.S. Open playoff.
Then there is a man who should be Garcia’s idol, Seve Ballesteros. There’s a whole generation of golf fans who’ve come onto the scene without any knowledge of this, but at one time Ballesteros was the game’s most dynamic player. When he stood where Garcia stands — at the age of 26 — Ballesteros already owned three of his five major titles and he had re-invented the European PGA Tour.
Garcia is a curious study. Like so many young stars, he has plenty of length, but whereas he once showed a flair for creativeness, the young man’s short game has been a huge disappointment. His fellow Spaniards, Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, shaped their legends out of an ability to get it up-and-down from unheard of spots, to hole putts that had to be holed, but Garcia has seemingly not inherited that trait. At one time, it appeared that he had, like that shot he invented from beneath the tree in the 1999 PGA Championship, or the fact that Garcia in 2000 ranked fourth in putting average and fourth in putts-per-round on the PGA Tour. They were statistic rankings that bode well for Garcia, but shockingly, he has lost his feel, his touch, his nerve. By 2003, he ranked 175th in putting average, 185th in putts-per-round, and he has continued a southward trend in these crucial categories — 196th and 197th in 2005, 164th and 178th currently.
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