x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Golf: Flop at Sawgrass raises questions about Sergio Garcia's mental strength

Poised on the brink of a breakthrough moment, former world No 2 Sergio Garcia takes his biggest career dive of all at Players Championship, writes Steve Elling.

Sergio Garcia reacts after his final putt on the 18th green during the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday. Garcia finished tied for 8th place at 7-under-par. Erik S Lesser / EPA
Sergio Garcia reacts after his final putt on the 18th green during the final round of The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday. Garcia finished tied for 8th place at 7-under-par. Erik S Lesser / EPA

It was, without question, a make-up moment.

Consider the ghosts that Sergio Garcia might have vanquished as he walked to the infamous 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass on Sunday, his fate in his own grasp and a wedge in his hand, as a not-too-distant flagstick flapped in a light breeze.

Firstly, that Garcia does not possess the moxie, skills or fortitude to win the biggest events, an admission he made at the 2012 Masters that caused an uproar in Spain, where machismo matters.

Secondly, that Tiger Woods had not taken up permanent residence inside Garcia's head. The pair had been engaged in a sniping war of words all weekend, and this was Garcia's chance to deliver the most exclamatory response of all.

Or that, when push comes to shove, Garcia will find a way to wither or dither.

Indeed, Garcia had even won the Players Championship on the same hole, five years earlier, when another player splashed his tee shot into the water.

No doubt, the persona panacea was in reach for Garcia, who has mostly been viewed as a player forever waiting for the accursed golf gods to vex him, for the conspiracy of elements to hurt his chances, or for the wrong note to be plucked at the wrong time

Uno, dos, adios.

Two poor swings later, Garcia cemented his reputation as a hapless victim, dunking a pair of shots into the lake, then bathing another ball on the 18th to fall out of a share of first place with Woods

Of the many storied drownings at Sawgrass, this Nasa-quality Florida splashdown moved to the top of the list, given the extensive back story between the two protagonists. With his fourth win of 2013, Woods reinforced his position as the game's superior figure, while Garcia was again painted as its most notable supplicant.

Garcia has panache, charisma and as much imagination as anybody in the game. He is entering his prime at age 33. Perhaps the scar tissue has grown so thick, it was unrealistic to believe he might finally dispatch Woods, since Garcia's defeatist complex, for lack of a better term, is never far from the surface.

Some of his public pronouncements, parsed carefully, scream loudly about his state of mind.

To wit, the Dubai Desert Classic in February. While fighting a stiff neck that required treatment as he played, Garcia considered withdrawing but soldiered onward – and moved squarely into contention.

"Unfortunately, we started making birdies and eagles, and I thought, 'Well, what do we do now?'" Garcia said after the second round.

Unfortunately? Yeah, birdies and eagles are such scorecard killers.

After last weekend's events, if that statement is not a blunt distillation of Garcia's autobiography, then what is?

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