SPRINGFIELD, N.J. — Momentum surely counts for something. What would you think of a golfer whose last six stroke-play tournament finishes were fifth, fifth, fifth, third and first? And suppose those last two fifth-place results came in major championships, the U.S. and British Opens?
Factor in a runner-up finish in March at the Honda Classic and two runner-up finishes in past PGA Championships and you’d think: This man is on a roll, he is a force to be reckoned with. He might even be the favorite.
Yet Sergio Garcia, at an impossible 36 years old, is not a headliner this week at Baltusrol Golf Club. Garcia won the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship this year but he’s not the flavor of the month anymore. Golf still has last year’s Big Three — Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth, who have combined to win zero majors this year. There is Phil Mickelson, the people’s choice, who made a stirring run at Royal Troon. There are newly minted major champions like Dustin Johnson, who’s threatening to become the No. 1 player in the world, and Henrik Stenson, who seems relentlessly straight off the tee and battered Royal Troon with a closing 63.
Sergio? He rates as old news. This is his 73rd start in a major. He hasn’t won one and while he still gets asked about that, maybe even badgered about it, you wouldn’t have rated him earlier this year as the best player who’s never won a major. Johnson and Stenson would’ve ranked ahead of him, probably, and Rickie Fowler, too.
The first two got their Opens and since Fowler has mostly been a non-factor this season, maybe Sergio is back in that familiar spot atop the great unwashed major-less.
The last four majors have been won by first-time major-winners. Sergio knows this and if he doesn’t, he is reminded when a media member asks him about it Wednesday morning on the eve of the PGA Championship.
“It’s obviously nice to see,” he says with a stock answer. He knows what the questioner wants so he delivers it. “I would love to make it five in a row,” Sergio says. “It would be very nice but we’ll see. My goal is to play well and give myself another shot at winning a tournament, winning a major. But every week is a new world. Every week is a different story.”
Tiger Woods chased Jack Nicklaus and his mark of 18 major titles for 11 years, winning 14 of them. Sergio chased Tiger in that memorable 1999 PGA at Medinah, where America’s image of him was indelibly forged by that shot from behind the tree in the final round, when a young Sergio dashed out to the fairway and leaped in the air to see where the ball ended up.
Tiger won that duel. Great expectations were heaped upon Sergio, who gladly accepted them. He is still chasing that first major and while it could be every bit as compelling as Tiger’s chase, an older Sergio seems secure, almost content. Resigned might be another description, but that doesn’t truly fit. He likes to compete; he likes to win. He owns 29 titles worldwide, including nine on the PGA Tour. His resume is that of a Hall of Famer, except for that missing major. He knows it, we know it and he knows we know it and at 36, he is OK with that. At 26, he probably wasn’t.
Time passes. Things change. And as Sergio says, every week is a new world.
Sergio was born in Castellon, Spain. He owns a professional soccer team. He officially makes his home now in Switzerland, probably for tax purposes.
His life is not all about getting that major championship. The media, however, don’t have another narrative for him. He went through a slump, due to burnout or heartbreak or simple loss of interest, and came out the other side. His claw putting stroke is good enough for him to win tournaments. The major issue, though, won’t go away for him just like it hasn’t gone away for Lee Westwood, just like it didn’t go away for Colin Montgomerie.
Maybe five or 10 years ago, Sergio admits, not winning a major bothered him, but not anymore. He understands how difficult it is to win any tournament on any continent. The level of play in the world is higher than it’s ever been. That major he never won? He knows now that it’ll be harder than ever to capture it. Stenson snagged his British Open at 40 two weeks ago. Sergio knows the question won’t go away for him until he gets one, too.
“If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to change my life,” Sergio says. “I’m not going to go in a cave and stay there until I die because I didn’t win a major. It’s not that serious. It would be nice to get at least one, but it’s not the end of the world.”
The pressure is off this week. The PGA spotlight will be on Day and McIlroy and Spieth and Johnson and Stenson and Mickelson and the rest. Baltusrol is a ballstriker’s course and Sergio is still one of the game’s best ballstrikers.
It might be a good fit. Every week, after all, is a new world.