x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Dubai Desert Classic: Spain's Sergio Garcia at peace with his prospects

Sergio Garcia was runner-up at the Qatar Masters last week and is hoping to carry that momentum into the Dubai Desert Classic, writes John McAuley.

Sergio Garcia gestures during the final round of the Qatar Masters last week, where he finished in second place. He will tee off at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.
Sergio Garcia gestures during the final round of the Qatar Masters last week, where he finished in second place. He will tee off at the Dubai Desert Classic on Thursday.

Such is the discrepancy between Sergio Garcia's talent and his career CV, that time spent with the European Tour star can sometimes seem better served with a notepad and a psychologist's couch.

There exists a copious amount of research data.

From No 2 in the world rankings in 2009 to problems in his private life and a self-inflicted hiatus the following season, the root of Garcia's struggles can usually be found between the ears.

As if golf is not difficult enough.

"If you're fighting against yourself too it makes it almost impossible," Garcia told The National ahead of Thursday's first round at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

On April 7, 2012, in the hallowed confines of Augusta National, it seemed the fight had deserted him.

"I'm not good enough ... I don't have the thing I need," said Garcia after bulldozing two brilliant rounds at the US Masters with a third day 77. "In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."

When stunned reporters asked if he was talking simply about the Masters, Garcia replied: "In any major."

It is a well-travelled tale, but the battle scars run deep. Only Tiger Woods scored better at the 1999 US PGA Championship at Medinah, when a 19-year-old Garcia announced his arrival on golf's grand stage with a boyish hop, skip and a jump after the most unlikely of shots on his 70th hole. Woods, though, ran off with the prize.

Eight years later, at a British Open around Carnoustie, the Spaniard would have walked away with the Claret Jug had he not dribbled a six-footer past the final hole. Grey matter understandably wired, he lost the succeeding play-off to Padraig Harrington.

Last season's Masters admission, however preposterous and premature, felt like the final nail in the coffin.

Yet recent victories in America and with Europe at the Ryder Cup, and a runner-up finish in Qatar on Saturday in his first outing of 2013, suggests a new lease of life. Does he therefore rue those Masters comments?

"I've said it. So you can't say I regret doing that," Garcia said. "Obviously if I could undo it and go back to there, the way I feel now, I probably wouldn't say it. But you have to learn from everything that happens and those are good learning experiences, too.

"If you try to find the positives in everything, it's always better. You can take it the wrong way, like I did then, because it felt like another chance had slipped away.

"But if you look at it differently you say it happened for a reason. You just have to be patient, keep working and keep waiting for it."

The wait, apparently shortened by a recent return to form, has gathered a fresh acceptance. In August, Garcia ended a four-year drought on the US PGA Tour with the Wyndham Championship title, then a week later he came home tied-third at The Barclays.

He served a crucial role in Europe's great escape against the United States in October, and closed out his European Tour season with tied-ninth at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

Christmas turkey then tasted a little sweeter thanks to a commanding victory on the Asian Tour, while a worthy weekend in Doha proved his game is still in rude health.

Whisper it, but, at 33, Garcia may be entering his major-winning prime.

"It depends on the week; how you feel and how things go," said the Omega brand ambassador. "It'd be nice to put myself in winning positions in majors again, give myself chances and see.

"But like I've said before, if I can manage to win one or whatever happens, it'll be awesome. At the end of the day, the more possibilities you give yourself, the higher percentage you have of winning.

"If you do that, eventually it should happen."

The enthusiasm for a season without the Ryder Cup confirms the current peace between Garcia and his game. No one, perhaps bar Jose Maria Olazabal, his compatriot and Europe's captain at Medinah, exudes a childlike enthusiasm for the clash with America more than "El Nino".

The commemorative DVD celebrating Europe's Houdini act has enjoyed a few spins since.

"I've watched it plenty times," he laughed. "How can you not?"

Garcia fully endorses the appointment of Paul McGinley as Europe's captain for Gleneagles 2014. He congratulated the Irishman, vice-captain and playing partner in Ryder Cups gone by, when they met last week in Qatar.

Having featured in some capacity in every skirmish since 1999 - seven in total, with a record that reads 16-8-4 - and played under a collection of Europe's starriest names, Garcia is pretty well qualified to pass judgement.

Heck, he could even don the captain's hat sometime down the line.

"It's still far away, but yeah, I could see myself doing it," he said. "There's things you learn and you like from Sam [Torrance, the captain in 2002] and some others.

"But it also has to do with personalities. Last year Jose was so emotional, some of the stories he would tell would bring you to tears. Some guys might not have that.

"For example, Paul maybe won't be able to show as much emotion as Jose, but he's very methodical; wants to make sure everything's in the right place. That will make everybody feel very comfortable.

"Until that week it's difficult to say how he'll react. But I can definitely tell he cares a lot. He's already thinking about things to do to make it better.

"Then we'll see how everything develops. But I have a feeling he'll be a great captain. And I hope he'll be my captain."

For now, though, Garcia just wants to keep riding the crest of the wave, keep finding the "right balance" between expecting so much and caring so little when his game finds a funk.

However, not at passion's expense. As Ryder Cup teammate Lee Westwood reinforced yesterday at Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, golf "needs characters like Sergio".

"Not only for me, but for the game it's important to have emotional guys out there," Garcia said. "People get connected to them much more than a guy who's very, very flat. It not only gets the player going, but gets the crowd going, too.

"Of course we care, we all do. If we didn't we wouldn't play. But again, you have to care in the right way, in a positive way. Not in a way that destroys you."

Dubai Desert Classic

Where: Emirates Golf Club

When: Thursday to Sunday

Tickets: Dh175 per day or Dh675 for entire event

More information: www.dubaidesertclassic.com


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