AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Sergio Garcia was supposed to have won a major or two by now, if not more. Instead, the only title he’s got is that dreaded “best player never to win one.”
And the way he was talking Wednesday, the oh-fer streak likely will continue this week at the Masters.
“It would be nice, but I’m not expecting it this week,” Garcia said on his way to the Augusta National clubhouse after finishing a practice round with Greg Norman. “My putting doesn’t feel great, and probably my head is not beautiful at the moment. But you know, we’re trying to figure it out and see what I can do.”
Asked what was wrong with his psyche, the Spaniard said he’s dealing with some personal issues.
“There are some things that have happened to me in the last four or five weeks that hasn’t helped much,” he said, declining to be more specific.
Whatever they are, they’ve taken a toll on his game.
Garcia started the season strong by winning the first event on the European tour, the HSBC Champions, and following it with top-10 finishes in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. He also was 11th at the Dubai Desert Classic.
But he hasn’t been the same since getting knocked out of the Accenture Match Play Championship in the first round by a guy ranked 63rd in the world. He tied for 31st at Doral, and was 77th last week at the Houston Open.
“I’m struggling a little bit. But you know, I’m working on it,” said Garcia, who was on the putting green before and after his round, and took extra putts on most of the nine holes he played with Norman, Robert Allenby and Camilo Villegas.
“Hopefully, I can overcome it.”
Garcia was just 16 when he played his first major, the British Open, and 17 when he won his first professional event. He turned pro at 19 in 1999, after recording the low amateur round at the Masters. He played eight events his first season as a pro, and had top-10 finishes in four of them.
But it was at the PGA Championship that year that the player, then known as “El Nino,” really took the world by storm.
Garcia delighted the crowds at Medinah Country Club that week, ripping balls through trees, leaping into the air to see where his shots landed and looking like he was having a grand time. He led after the first round, the youngest player to be atop the leaderboard at the PGA Championship since the tournament went to stroke play in 1958, and gave the event one of its greatest finishes.
Trailing Tiger Woods by five strokes at one point, his birdie on the 13th hole got him within three. After making his putt, he turned around, looked back at Woods on the tee and tugged his cap as if to say, “Your turn.” His tee shot on the 16th hole sailed wide right and landed behind an oak tree, settling behind a knot of roots.
The green was hidden and the pin 189 yards away, and most players would have been content to simply chip out. Not Garcia. He grabbed a 6-iron, closed his eyes and swung. He sprinted out to the fairway and jumped like a hurdler at the top of a hill so he could watch as the ball landed on the green.
Woods ended up winning the Wanamaker Trophy for his second major title, with Garcia a stroke behind. But it looked as if golf’s next rivalry for the ages had begun.
Woods has, obviously, held up his end of the bargain, winning another 12 majors. Garcia, well, that’s a little more complicated.
Now 29, he is 0-for-38 in the majors. But he’s had nine top-five finishes and could have shed that awful label at either the 2007 British Open or last year’s PGA Championship. He had the lead in the final round at both, only to wind up second to Padraig Harrington each time.
Garcia is an excellent Ryder Cup player, a big part of the reason Europe had won three straight before last year’s American win at Valhalla. He won last year’s Players Championship, his biggest victory yet, and went to Doral this year with a chance to be No. 1 in the world – mathematically at least.
“There’s guys that get a little bit fortunate. They get in contention in a major and manage to get things going their way. And unfortunately, it hasn’t happened to me,” Garcia said after falling short again at the PGA. “I feel like I played well enough to win probably more than two majors throughout my career.”
Garcia is hardly in the twilight of his career, and will surely have plenty more chances. But the competition isn’t getting any easier. Woods and Phil Mickelson are as good as ever, and Harrington has won the last two majors. Youngsters Anthony Kim and Camilo Villegas are already winners, and teenyboppers Rory McIlroy, Danny Lee and Ryo Ishikawa have the moxie – and the talent – Garcia once did.
“That’s the future of golf and we’re going to be here to try and help it on, but it’s always nice to see youngsters coming up and making sure the game is still in good hands,” Garcia said.
Asked if he still feels like a youngster, Garcia paused.
“Yeah, I still feel young. It’s getting there, though,” he said, smiling.