Garcia gets warm reception from fans at Wentworth, says he tried to call Tiger

May 24, 2013

VIRGINIA WATER, England — After a week that has seen anchor putters banned, the spat between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia escalate to a racist joke about fried chicken, and an irritated Rory McIlroy refuse to talk about rumors he had sacked his manager, Thursday’s first round of the BMW PGA Championship came as blessed relief for golf fans.

It was all going so well. World No. 2 McIlroy was out early in the morning and got to three under par after 12 holes. Normal golf service resumed, then. He then bogeyed five of the last six holes and threw his ball into the stream in front of the 18th green after putting out to complete a round of two-over-par 74. He refused to blame those off-course distractions but did say he was not used to playing in such cold weather now that he is a Florida resident.

“It was tricky,” McIlroy said. “It’s cold, it’s windy, and the course is playing pretty long. The thing that gets me is the cold. I was wearing mittens all day.”

McIlroy will have to endure more of the same weather Friday but sunshine is forecast for the weekend. “It was one of those rounds I let slip through my fingers,” he said.

Probably because they were frozen. McIlroy made loose tee shots on 13 and 17 and his drive at 18 got an unlucky roll 10 yards too far and landed in a bush, where he had to take a penalty drop for an unplayable lie.

“I could have been near the top of the leaderboard,” he said. “But I am where I am. Got on a run of bogeys and couldn’t quite stop it.”

McIlroy’s awful afternoon was nothing compared to that endured by the European Tour’s chief executive, George O’Grady. He got on a run of verbal bogeys and couldn’t quite stop it. Just after Garcia had teed off, O’Grady spoke on British television about his decision not to punish him for his fried chicken joke aimed at Woods.

“We know the connotation in the United States. We accept all races on the European Tour,” O’Grady said. “Most of Sergio’s friends happen to be colored athletes in the United States, he is absolutely abject in his apology and we accepted it and are moving on.”

The casual use of the outdated and racially insensitive term “colored” caused another uproar in the golf world. Two hours later, Wentworth had its second apology for an inappropriate choice of words in two days.

“I deeply regret using an inappropriate word in a live interview for Sky Sports for which I unreservedly apologize,” O’Grady said via a statement issued by the European Tour.

So how did Garcia fare? He was all-smiles as he chatted on the first tee with his playing partners and friends Luke Donald and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. But his heart must have been pounding to discover what reception he would receive. He needn’t have worried. This was effectively a home game for the Spaniard. He was sent on his way with polite applause and none of the heckling he may face at the U.S. Open next month. Garcia put his troubled week behind him as he progressed to two under par through seven holes. But then he double bogeyed the eighth hole. Three more bogeys on the back nine were traded with a birdie at the par-three 10th then an eagle at the par-five 18th after seeing his 25-foot putt die into the hole with its final breath. A level-par 72 was a fine performance considering Garcia’s mental state after the fallout from his feud with Woods.

“I felt the warmth from the people,” he said. “That helped. I feel like I have great support from people all over the world, not just in Europe. I’m very lucky with that and very grateful.”

How long did it take him to relax?

“Well, it wasn’t easy,” he said. “There were moments. It felt a bit different. It’s been a tough week.”

Garcia spent 20 minutes in the recorder’s hut with a press officer from the European Tour before he emerged after his round. Presumably he was being told about what O’Grady has said. “I’ve been told about it,” Garcia said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Garcia said he had not yet been able to contact Woods. “Unfortunately not,” he said. “We talked to [Woods’s agent] Mark Steinberg, and he said that they are moving forward. But if I manage to talk to him, perfect; if not, I’ll definitely see him at the U.S. Open and we can talk face-to-face.”

O’Grady’s verbal bogey overshadowed a day when scoring was tough on a wild and windy day of sunshine punctuated by heavy showers and a 90-minute delay for the threat of lightening. Donald shot a six-over-par 78 and complained of having “no rhythm or feel in my hands on the club." There were two-under-par 70s from fellow Ryder Cup teammates Lee Westwood, Francesco Molinari, Martin Kaymer plus a resurgent Paul Casey. Justin Rose posted an even-par 72 along with British Open champion Ernie Els while Ian Poulter shot a four-over-par 76. South African James Kingston leads at six-under-par.