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March 29, 2017
Friday, February 10, 2017

Could this be Sergio’s time?

By David Mackintosh / Golfing Traveller

Sergio Garcia’s never been so sharp so early. With the exception of 2002, when he won the Mercedes Championship in Hawaii in January, the feisty Spaniard’s usual pace is to start the year slow, get into a higher gear around May, then keep pedal to metal until September.

Since turning pro in 1999 this natural rhythm has produced the lucrative haul of 30 professional victories, nine on the US PGA Tour and this Sunday-past his 12th on the European Tour, a dominant wire-to-wire win at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, facing down Open Champion Henrik Stenson. This was Garcia at his imperious best; the free-flowing, ever-repeating, precision-milled iron striking, frequently compared to Ben Hogan, never sharper, opening with a powerful 7-under par 65 and extinguishing the powerful Swede’s final-day charge with a bogey-free 69.

What’s changed? Hard to put a finger on. Last month, three days before his 37th birthday, Garcia announced his engagement to former Golf Channel reporter Angela Akins. Happy man, happy golfer?

Of course it could be he’s regained his putting touch. That will put a smile on most golfers’ faces. Having given up the conventional two-hands wraparound for the right-hand fretsaw grip, his putting is significantly better. In 2015 he averaged 30.33 per round, for the current season 29.25 per round. True, averages only tell one so much, but more than four putts, thus strokes-per-tournament improvement, is truly significant.

Sergio’s had plenty of public woes, several spats that might easily have been avoided with a bit more thought-out caution, but that’s not his way. He’s Latin emotional, prone to showing his feelings openly. Way back we used to say when he grows up, he’ll be just fine. Then we said, Oh well, too bad he never matured. Now, well maybe he finally has.

One thing is for sure. He leads the list of the most talented never to win a Major. So let’s give him a pass on his famously self-pitying remarks at the 2012 Masters, when he told the Spanish press he wasn’t good enough to win a Major, whining that he needed to play for second or third place. A talented man in a happy place with his putter can take on the world, even if most of that world is now in the age 22-24 bracket.

Garcia’s perspective should be that Phil Mickelson was 33, playing his 47th major championship, when he won his first top title at the 2004 Masters. Augusta 2017 notably will be Garcia’s 69th consecutive Majors start, going all the way back to that famed 1999 debut, when as a 19-year-old he came so close to catching Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship.

In all, a seventeen-year stretch during which he’s had four heart-breaker second places but remains the perennial bridesmaid. Given Garcia’s past putting history I’d never put him in a favourites list at Augusta National but his ball striking is so pure he can win anywhere, so particularly look for him to be a factor at Erin Hills, Royal Birkdale and Quail Hollow in the other three Majors this year.

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