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Garcia rediscovers putting stroke to win Players in sudden death

Sergio Garcia, Players Championship
Robert Beck/SI
The Players Championship was Garcia's first win in three years.

Woody Austin had one of the best rounds of the day going at three under when he got to the 17th hole, where the pin was tucked in an almost impossible spot, front-right. His tee shot caught a gust and splashed down way short, and Austin looked skyward and uttered a few choice words at the golf gods before exhorting the crowd to cheer his calamity — gallows humor that went over big in the players' dining room.

"Hey, Heath, what do you think he said?" said D.J. Trahan.

"Who knows, with that guy," Heath Slocum replied.

Better to ask why such a prestigious and lucrative event seemed jinxed before it started.

Another Woody (Allen) once said that half of life is just showing up, which meant the Players was a field half-empty, a fact Garcia alluded to in his victory speech when he quipped, "First of all I want to thank Tiger for not being here."

Woods had surgery on his left knee after the Masters and spent the Players two hours south — courtside at the Orlando Magic-Detroit Pistons playoff series, to be exact. This may have explained the glut of scalpers trying to unload tickets along A1A, or the handful of major metropolitan papers that declined to send a writer to cover the event.

The absence of the best player in the world can be overcome, but before Garcia's heroics a series of unfortunate events seemed to drain the Players of any remaining magic.

Masters champion Trevor Immelman withdrew with a stomach bug before hitting a shot, and Hunter Mahan, seemingly fighting the same thing, threw up while playing the first and second holes (two Technicolor pars) and also withdrew.

Jason Gore (illness), Shigeki Maruyama (shoulder), Ryan Armour (no reason given after his first-round 81) and Cameron Beckman (back) also withdrew. Then came news that a single-engine plane piloted by Jeff Maggert's brother had crashed in Colorado, killing Barry Maggert as he tried to make his way to Boulder for his son's graduation. Jeff Maggert withdrew as well.

Those players who remained did their best to put on a big show, and no one was sharper than Goydos as he sat next to Bob Costas and delivered well-timed one-liners Saturday.

The witty veteran was even better on the course, where he made a series of big putts and was still joking with his caddie even as he stood on the tee of the terrifying 17th hole with a one-stroke lead at the end of regulation. But even Goydos knew that given enough holes the better player will almost always win, and Garcia, 28, was better. He led the field in both driving accuracy (he hit 14 of 14 fairways on Friday, a performance he called the best of his career given the blustery conditions) and greens in regulation, and as has been predicted for years, when his putter finally woke up no one could touch him.

And so Garcia can begin to forget all those rounds when he outplayed the field tee-to-green and had to watch someone else get the glory, even the most painful one. He said the wind-whipped final round at TPC Sawgrass was harder than the last day at Carnoustie last summer, and maybe it was, but for once Sergio Garcia got the soft landing.

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