Garcia finished second at the 2007 Players.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
By Gary Van Sickle
Friday, August 19, 2011

Maybe you wrote off Sergio Garcia last year because he struggled with his putter or because he was a little petulant after he lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington in the British Open. Well, unwrite him off. Sergio may or may not be all the way back after his opening 66 at the Players, but he's definitely on his way.

Paul Goydos came to the press center to talk about his own 68 and afterward was pretty blunt about Sergio, with whom he was paired earlier this year. Goydos was very, very impressed with Sergio's ballstriking. "He hit one about this high," Goydos said, holding a hand at shoulder level, "and cut it to hold it against the wind. He's like Tiger in that his go-to shot seems to always be the shot that's needed now. That's impressive. He's going to win a British Open. He's probably going to win a British Open this year."

The Sergio revival has come in large part because of the help of putting guru Stan Utley, a journeyman tour player who was known for his putting prowess. Utley is from the Ben Crenshaw-George Low swinging-gate style of putting, as opposed to the Dave Pelz-Loren Roberts square-to-square method. Sergio described it Thursday as "trying to hit a draw" on a stroke.

It's working. You don't shoot 66 without making a bunch of putts. The most important part about Sergio's putting resurrection -- and the main reason it will have a successful ending -- is that Sergio and Utley are working to get him back to putting the way he used to putt. In fact, his old stroke came back so quickly that he got some confidence right away.

He and Utley first worked together in February at the WGC-Accenture Match Play in Tucson. For his Wednesday match, Sergio carried two putters -- a belly putter and a conventional-length putter -- because, he said, he liked the feel of his new-old stroke so much, he couldn't wait to take it to the course. Making it work right away, he said, was another thing. But it was cause for optimism.

Since then, he switched back to the putter he used in 2000, "Back when I used to putt good," he said with chagrin. And he's getting results.

"All I can do is keep working," he said. "At least now I feel like I can do it. I'm very excited about my game. My long game usually is good, I've been driving it better the last three months. My short game feels good. I'm starting to feel it. At least now I have some rounds where I shot what I feel like I should have shot."

If Garcia can stay in contention this week, it'll be a good chance for him to put his improved short game to the test under some pressure. He finished second here last year and shot 67-66 on the weekend. That means he's 17 under par in his last three rounds at Sawgrass.

I like the direction he's headed with his putter. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play his way back up the world rankings and challenge for the No. 2 spot before this year is over, maybe before the summer is over. This week would be a great start toward that.

It's too early to say he's the man to beat, but, hey, he's the man to beat.

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