Can Sergio find his form? The clock's ticking

Tuesday August 25th, 2009

For at least a few moments yesterday at the Omega store in Midtown Manhattan, Sergio Garcia wasn’t thinking about his 15-month winless spell on the PGA Tour, his 0-for-44 run at the majors, or even his freshest wound: the final-round hiccups that cost him the Wyndham Championship last weekend. The scruffy-faced Spaniard was focused on a task so meticulous that it required every ounce of his attention: disassembling a watch. Sergio-garcia-omega It was a publicity stunt for Omega, and the golfer was in top pitchman form, beginning with his prompt 11 a.m. arrival at the company’s flagship boutique on 5th Avenue. (Rule No. 1 for watch endorsers: be on time.) After a flurry of handshakes, smooches and photo ops, Garcia was led up two flights of stairs to a tidy laboratory whose white coat-wearing occupants looked more like nuclear scientists than watchmakers. Garcia slipped on a lab coat of his own and pulled up a seat next to the tiny bowels of a high-powered timepiece. Tweezers in one hand, a miniature screwdriver in the other, and a jeweler’s loop clinging to his brow, he dutifully went to work, seemingly unfazed by the boom mike hovering over his head or the swat team of public relations reps crowded around him. Garcia lowered the loop over his right eye and grinned. “It’s a lot easier with this thing, man!” he said.
Garcia proved he can dismantle a watch, but the 29-year-old can’t turn back the clock on what has been a frustrating season for him on the PGA Tour. His listless third-place finish in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday was only his second top-10 finish of the season, and he is a 89th in the FedEx Cup points race as the playoffs kick off this week with the Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. “On Sunday I just didn’t feel comfortable,” Garcia told me of the Wyndham. “I never felt like I was in total control of it. I seemed to be trying to hold on [to the lead] the whole time.” It showed. After a hot start, he bogeyed Nos. 8, 11 and 12 and didn’t make a birdie after the seventh hole. His second- and third-round 64s seemed a distant memory.

Much of Garcia’s struggles, he has said, have been mental, not mechanical. In March, his girlfriend, Morgan Leigh Norman, ended their relationship, leaving the golfer shell-shocked and unsure of himself. “That took a little bit of confidence out of me,” he says. “I didn’t feel much like playing golf.” From March until the middle of June, Garcia didn’t notch a top-10 finish in eight Tour starts, and he seemed to lack much of his trademark pep.
What’s most alarming about Garcia’s mini-slump is that sloppy driving and iron-play are as much to blame as his old nemesis — his putting. He’s hitting just 57 percent of his fairways (166th on Tour) and 65 percent of his greens in regulation (97th), a statistical category that he usually dominates. “My ballstriking has not been up to my standards,” Garcia says. His putting stroke hasn’t been much better, at least not statistically. He is averaging 1.78 putts per hole, 125th-best on Tour.
Meanwhile, Garcia has watched three first-time major winners prevail in 2009, including the unheralded Y.E. Yang, who trumped Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Yang’s upset came 10 years after Garcia’s boy-wonder performance at the 1999 PGA, which most golf observers predicted would be the first of many classic Garcia-Woods clashes. Instead, Garcia is still majorless. After rounds of 71-78 at Hazeltine, he packed his bags and hopped a plane to New York to spend the weekend with friends. “It’s a wonderful city,” Garcia says. “You see people walking around the streets, the shops, the bars, the cafes. To me, it feels like the most European city in the U.S.; it feels a lot like it is back in Spain.”
And now Garcia is back in the Big Apple, hoping to take a bite out of the Barclays. He appears a long way off the form he enjoyed this time last year when he finished second at the PGA and lost in a playoff at the Barclays two weeks later. But perhaps the buzz of New York will re-energize him, and help him refocus. "I’m thinking about what I want to do," Garcia says. "It’s just a matter of doing it." He better get cracking. With just four tournaments left in the 2009 season, the clock’s ticking.(Photo: Wire Image)

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