Tour Confidential: Will Sergio Garcia Ever Win a Major?

February 23, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. A few years ago, Sergio Garcia left Augusta saying he didn’t stand a chance in majors. In a promo this week, he said he had a major in him. Then on Sunday, alone in the lead through 16 holes, he finished bogey-bogey coming down the stretch at the Northern Trust Open to miss the playoff by a shot. So which is it: a major or no in Sergio’s future?

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not a major. Multiple majors! My crystal ball tells me he’ll win one British Open and one PGA Championship in the next ten years.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): That bogey-bogey finish was a reminder of what seems to happen to Sergio in stroke-play when it matters most. Afterward, Sergio gave what struck me as an odd interview in which he said, in essence, that he couldn’t really be disappointed with the result because he’d played poorly all week. That seemed disingenuous. Nick Faldo, in a rare moment of to-the-point clarity, followed up by noting that it was the two final drives under pressure that had done Garcia in.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Sergio has a ton of talent, but I’ll believe he can win a major when he actually does it. He still seems too far inside his own head.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I wouldn’t give up on Sergio just yet. He’s putting a lot better with the claw grip, at least Thursday through Saturday, and his short game has never been better. His tee-to-green play was worse than usual, though, so the fact that he nearly won despite struggling with his swing is a good sign. He’ll straighten out his tee-to-green game, don’t worry, but the big question remains whether he can make clutch putts on the final nine or whether he’s another Zorba the Greek type-putter — Never On Sunday.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): If you play the odds, the answer is no major for Sergio. He absolutely has the talent. He has so much talent that it’s easy to see him contending, in the final group, in a bunch of majors for years to come. For 16 years, however, something seems to happen when he gets THIS close in majors, and in too many cases, in regular events as well. Could be two bad drives to finish, could be a pushed putt, or a guy who shoots a 65 to his 68, or a bad club choice. It’s always something. Yet, he’s so talented, so entertaining and is such a fixture in big events, I still root for him to seal the deal.

2. James Hahn won the Northern Trust Open in a playoff over Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey, finishing off Johnson with a long birdie putt on the third playoff hole. How surprised were you to see Hahn emerge from all the big names on that leaderboard? And have you noticed anything different about Johnson since his return from suspension three weeks ago?

VAN SICKLE: I figured it would be Hahn, the relative newcomer, who would succumb to Riviera’s diabolical challenges, but instead practically everybody on the leaderboard jammed it into reverse on the closing holes. Johnson looks leaner since his return, and that’s with TV adding the proverbial ten pounds. His game looks the same, though, pretty solid until he gets around the greens.

BAMBERGER: With the course playing long and wet, it was going to be wide open. I would never have guessed a California kid, and not an experienced mudder, would be the one to win. One of the many reasons golf is such fun to watch. As for Johnson, his swing looks the same. Where his head is I have no idea. But, then, I never did.

PASSOV: Very unexpected results — which is why live sports are so much fun. Throw the “scripts” in the garbage. Didn’t everybody think it was Sergio’s week after he chipped in at 12? Did any watchers out there factor in how the rain would change conditions on the final nine? Could anyone possibly have bet that DJ would make 6 with a wedge in his hand at 17? And speaking of DJ, I haven’t seen him in person, so I don’t have a lot to add, but he seems even-keel, and he seems awesome.

SENS: On any given Sunday. The talent pool is so deep these days I’m rarely shocked by any outcome. And aside from Vijay and Goosen, both now well past their primes, there wasn’t really a stone-cold closer in those final groups, which gave a cool customer like Hahn all the more of a chance.

RITTER: Hahn was the clear underdog in that final pack, and congrats to him for pulling off the shots at the end to win it. DJ looks exactly the same — the West Coast Swing is typically his playground — and I think he’ll win again sometime this season.


3. The most fascinating hole at the Northern Trust Open this week was, of course, Riviera’s 331-yard par-4 10th hole, which Geoff Ogilvy called “an ideal short par-4” in his column. What’s your favorite hole on the PGA Tour?

BAMBERGER: Really hard to say. Depends on the day. Today I’m going with the third at Augusta. You can hit any club between 5-iron and driver off the tee. You can bump the second shot, fly it, chip it. The green is mystery theater. And then you slip off the green and there you are, on the fourth tee.

RITTER: Sign me up for No. 13 at Augusta, where any number between 3 and 8 is possible and the scenery in person (or at home in HD) gets no better.

VAN SICKLE: No hole is more compelling than the island-green 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Besides its dramatic design, it comes at the end of the round when tournaments are won and lost. You can make birdie, you can make double — hell, you can make a 9. I doubt if anyone has ever switched channels on a TV set while someone hit a shot at 17 during The Players.

SENS: Technically, it’s not a hole on Tour, but for reliable drama over the years, it’s tough to top the 13th at Augusta.

PASSOV: I love everything about Augusta National’s 13th, and it would be my “ideal” hole in any design textbook I would write. However, my favorite hole is the one I cannot turn away from, whether it’s watching it on early Thursday coverage or on Sunday afternoon — or while playing it, for that matter — and that’s the par-3 17th at TPC Sawgrass.

4. The PGA of America picked Davis Love III to captain the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Was Love, the losing captain in 2012, the best choice? Who would you have selected?

VAN SICKLE: Love presided over an inferior team that nearly won a Ryder Cup. That said, he presided over a team that blew a four-point lead in singles. I hear everyone saying the Americans need to play better in the alternate-shot format but conveniently forgetting the European beatdown of the Americans, head to head, at Medinah. I don’t hear anyone addressing that. I would have preferred Fred Couples or Phil Mickelson but if I had my choice, Paul Azinger would have been the U.S. captain after 2008 in perpetuity or as long as he wanted the job.

SENS: Love came within a few Justin Rose bombs of being on the winning side in 2012, so I don’t think it’s fair to saddle him with that loss. That said, my choice would have been Paul Azinger, mostly so we could put his “pod-system” to another test. My sense is that Azinger’s role at Valhalla has been mythologized in the media, part of a tendency to overstate the importance of the captain from the start. The real reason for European’s dominance in recent years has less to do with captains than it does with the fact that they have fielded deeper teams.

RITTER: Here’s the incredible thing about selecting a previous captain, and then making that selection Davis Love: it’s completely outside the box and utterly uninspiring at the exact same time. Congratulations to the task force for achieving this astonishing double. It’s like NASA saying, “We’re going to build a structure on Mars … and it’s going to be a parking garage!” Love will be fine, but an Azinger pick would’ve sent the message that Team USA is all in.

PASSOV: I really don’t understand the politics of the PGA of America. The system apparently was so broken that they had to form a task force to fix it, and then they appoint a guy who was part of that broken machine. I’m not saying Davis Love III didn’t earn a second chance — great PGA heritage and a couple of Rose/Poulter prayers away from being a winning captain, but if they wanted to right a wrong, give it to Larry Nelson. If they wanted to wipe the slate clean, pick Fred Couples, with five Ryder Cup appearances as a player and three winning turns as a Presidents Cup captain. If they simply wanted to win, they should have given Paul Azinger one more go.

BAMBERGER: I never saw it coming, but I think Davis is an interesting and excellent choice. I like the idea of learning from your mistakes and seeing what you can do the next time.


5. Riviera and Royal Melbourne, site of Lydia Ko’s win at the Women’s Australian Open, were on display in pro tournaments this week. When an event offers up a famous/top-ranked course, does that provide greater incentive to watch, or are your viewing habits dictated by field, leaderboard and tournament prestige?

SENS: The latter. The ranking of the course means nada to me. What does add to the allure is if I’ve played the course they’re playing. I think a lot of fans feel that way: intrigued to see how the pros handle the same holes we’ve had a crack at.

BAMBERGER: I am hugely drawn to the course, and what a treat to get Melbourne and Riviera on the same weekend. I watched as much to see the holes and how the players played them as anything else.

RITTER: A small handful of courses can carry a show if the leaderboard is a bust (Augusta, Pebble, a few British Open tracks), but professional televised golf is all about the players. They write the stories that resonate and create the drama. The ratings bear this out.

VAN SICKLE: Normally, the leaderboard grabs my attention the most. A course like Riviera, one of my favorites to walk in all of golf, is the exception. Pebble Beach is entrancing, and so is Torrey Pines to a lesser extent. The finishing holes at Phoenix may be the most exciting stretch on Tour, and Riviera’s back nine is pretty and fascinating to watch. I’m a sucker for a good golf course even more than a good leaderboard.

PASSOV: When Tiger and Rory went at it head-to-head a few years ago at some cash-grab event on a goofy modern course in China, I was glued to the set, even late at night in the middle of football season. That doesn’t happen very often, however. Given my fondness for all things courses, good and bad, I’ll make the effort to watch even a meaningless event if the course is one I want to scrutinize.

6. Sunday was Oscar night in Hollywood. What’s your pick for best ever performance in a golf movie?

PASSOV: It’s all Caddyshack — and a close call between Chevy Chase as Ty Webb, Ted Knight as Judge Smails and Bill Murray as Carl Spackler. In the end, I have to go with the deranged greatness, much of it improvised, of Bill Murray as greenskeeper Carl Spackler.

VAN SICKLE: It doesn’t qualify as a golf movie, per se, but the scene in Pat and Mike where a young Katherine Hepburn, frustrated by having to make sure she didn’t win the match with the boss, steps up and absolutely drills a row of teed-up range balls like a tour pro. That was no stunt double, either, she was an excellent athlete. I’ll give real-life black-belt karate expert Bob Barker the nod as runner-up scene stealer. The price is wrong … bitch!

RITTER: Tin Cup sweeps with Kevin Costner winning Best Actor and Rene Russo taking Best Actress. Bill Murray claims Best Supporting. And it’s a surprise winner for Best Cameo: Bob Barker in Happy Gilmore.

SENS: You mean, aside from the gopher in Caddyshack? I’ll go with Bob Barker for his cameo in Happy Gilmore, though that probably has something to do with his co-star in that scene. Acting alongside Adam Sandler, even Keanu Reeves would come off as Olivier.

BAMBERGER: Ted Knight as Judge Elihu Smails in Caddyshack. Snubbed by Oscar.

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.