AUGUSTA, Ga. — After years of disappointment at Augusta National — a place he once deemed unfair and openly admitted he didn't like — Sergio Garcia didn't seem at all surprised by the frustrations that beset his challenge for the Masters on Friday.
Garcia himself seemed to call it yesterday, even as he basked in the glow of a 6-under-par 66 that earned him a share of the first round lead. "Today was one of those good days," he said Thursday. "And you know, let's enjoy it while it lasts." For a guy leading the Masters, he sounded as enthused as an undertaker.
His comments, laced with doom, seemed destined to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And so it was. With nature working against him — breezy conditions and intermittent rain were a factor Friday morning — the long-suffering Spaniard carded a birdie-less 76, leaving him three strokes behind the late-day leaders.
"It was very tough today," he said. "It was very gusty. So you had to get lucky in some shots. Funny game. Overall, I think I played nicely. Obviously things happened for me on the first day. Absolutely nothing happened for me today."
To say Garcia's relationship with Augusta National is tumultuous would be charitable. He lashed out against the course in 2009, when he finished tied for 38th, saying, "I don't like it, to tell you the truth. I don't think it is fair… [Augusta] can do whatever they want. It's not my problem. I just come here and play and then go home." He apologized two days later. But last year, after carding back-to-back rounds under par for the first time in a decade, his challenge unraveled with a 3-over 75 on Saturday and his frustrations boiled over again.
"I'm not good enough," he told Spanish-language reporters. "In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."
Garcia tempered those remarks yesterday, but they were an insight into a 33-year-old who had spent more than a dozen years chasing an elusive major title-slightly fatalistic, almost tragically despairing. So often, perhaps too often, we recall the infectious 19-year-old who skipped down that fairway at Medinah in the '99 PGA Championship and let his emotions run free. But 14 years of disappointment can coarsen anyone's enthusiasm. He's played 50 rounds at Augusta since 1999 — just 14 of them under par. He's had more finishes in the 40s than in the top 10. He's finished the tournament under par only three times.
On Friday, with a light rain bearing down early, he had trouble reading the wind and gauging his distances. He found himself bunkered on three straight holes, two of which he bogeyed. And when the rain finally cleared on the back nine, he found water elsewhere.
His 3-iron approach to the par-5 15th was buffeted by a gusty wind and found the pond, his third water ball in five holes. Garcia slammed his club down and stalked to the green, shoulders low and countenance grim. He saved par, but it more or less encapsulated his day. He felt at the whim of the wind, of fickle fortunes, resigned that perhaps this was just how it was going to be.
"When that happens, it's difficult to get things going," he said after the round. "It feels like even your good shots are not getting rewarded…There's nothing you really can do about that." It all seemed out of his hands today. And he looked as though he expected nothing else.