So he turned out not to be as good as Tiger Woods. That’s been his biggest crime, and he certainly has plenty of company on that score.
Sergio Garcia introduced himself to the golf world in 1999, running and leaping up the 16th fairway at the PGA Championship to watch the progress of an iron shot he had extricated from a red oak on the right side of the hole. The exuberant Spaniard was only 19 years old at the time and finished runner-up to a 23-year-old Woods in that tournament. He was immediately anointed the natural rival to Woods, who was on the verge of executing the Tiger Slam.
Cast in the roll of Woods’ foil, Garcia lost every time, save for at the Ryder Cup. When he needed a big putt, the ball never went in. If there was a clutch shot to pull off, it invariably went astray. There was even a running joke at his expense – if you’re ever stranded in the desert you want Sergio Garcia with you because he’ll always find water.
Both of those demons were in evidence in the final round at the recent AT&T Byron Nelson in Irving, Texas. Garcia dunked a golf ball into the pond at hole 14 and then brushed a birdie putt past the hole on the 18th. But when leader Brooks Koepka faltered down the stretch, Garcia found himself tied for the lead and busted an aggressive drive over the water on the first playoff hole to win the championship.
What’s Sergio Been Up To?
Since Tiger Woods receded from the golf scene, Garcia seems to have disappeared as well. While he’s won enough times around the world to hover around the Top 10 rankings, he scarcely plays the minimum number of PGA events to keep his Tour card. Before the win at the Byron Nelson – his second in the event – Garcia’s last win on U.S. soil was in 2012.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that Garcia has now matched his countryman and idol, Seve Ballesteros, with nine lifetime PGA wins. By any accounting Sergio Garcia has enjoyed a great career in golf. Garcia is 36 years old now and has won professional golf tournaments for half of his time on earth. He has over 25 titles round the globe, but measured against the promise of his arrival that day in Medinah many still think he could have done better.
The “Best Player Never to Win a Major”
Since Jack Nicklaus sold everybody on the concept that the only thing that matters in professional golf is major tournaments, a popular game around the 19th hole is identifying the current “best player never to win a major.” Fred Couples was a popular candidate until he won his only major, a Masters, at the age of 32. Then it was Davis Love who eventually broke through at the PGA when he was 33. Phil Mickelson wore the crown for many years until finally winning the Masters at the age of 34.
It always seemed that every “great” player eventually got that major, until Colin Montgomerie. The tortured Scot was never able to grasp that elusive major hardware until he reached the Senior Tour and long before passed the mantle of “best player without a major” down to fellow Brit, Lee Westwood, who has motored into his forties without his major. Now the title has passed down to Garcia.
Garcia confesses that not winning a major doesn’t bother him. In the past he’s expressed a lack of belief in himself at times on the course, and is always quick to credit the role of luck in winning a golf tournament. Of course, Garcia’s built as strong a resume as one could hope without winning a major championship – a key figure in winning five Ryder Cups and a Players Championship (the “fifth major”). Montgomerie went into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2013 without a major title, and with ten Top 10s in majors. Garcia has already piled up 20 Top Ten finishes in majors.
And there’s still time to join that exalted club. He’s lasted longer than his nemesis at Medinah – that red oak was taken down several years ago along with 4,160 others (the felled trees were counted) to return the course to its original links feel. Garcia remains one of the most sublime ball-strikers in golf, and he’s had a Top 12 finish in a major in 15 of the past 16 years. Regardless of what he says, if a putt breaks just right at the right time, Sergio Garcia will be happy to pass the title of “Best Player Never to Win a Major” down to Rickie Fowler.