Lateral Hazard: Tiger Woods owns Sergio Garcia once again, wins The Players Championship

Brian Murphy
Yahoo Sports



There's a phrase that describes Sergio Garcia's two balls into the water at the 17th hole at The Players Championship, just as he was tied with Tiger Woods after 70 holes, on the same weekend in which he engaged in some venomous woofing with Tiger, and that phrase is:

Career-defining.

The Sergio who rinsed two balls en route to a quadruple-bogey seven on Sawgrass' 17th hole is the same Sergio who has zero career major championships to Tiger's 14; who has eight career wins in 251 PGA Tour starts to Tiger's 78 wins in 300 starts; who has now been schooled by Tiger seven of seven times when paired together on a weekend. 

Make no mistake, there have been glorious moments in El Nino's career: stirring Ryder Cup performances, and a Players Championship among them.

Tiger Woods gives a thumbs-up after winning The Players Championship. (AP)

Tiger Woods gives a thumbs-up after winning The Players Championship. (AP)

But after his double-rinse job on No. 17 Sunday afternoon, when both he and Tiger were 13-under on the leaderboard, you have to start wondering: Has any athlete in history been so thoroughly dominated by another in parallel career paths?

Tiger's decimation of Sergio in both wins and glory, and especially in psychological terms, has been something singular to behold. Even two other foils of Tiger's – Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els – have broken through to stake some turf, with Lefty winning four majors in the post-2000 Tiger Era, and the Big Easy taking two (the 2002 British Open, and 2012 British Open).

That this all took place on the weekend where Sergio and Tiger aired their dirty laundry made Sergio's crushing fall almost poetic.

By now, you heard the tale of Saturday's third round, in which Sergio claimed Tiger pulled a club from his bag just as Sergio's backswing peaked, causing a crowd roar that Sergio blamed for his poor shot. And Sergio revived all the old memories – the over-celebration at Bighorn in 2000, the complaints about Tiger getting breaks at the 2002 U.S. Open – when he told the media he blamed Tiger for the breach of etiquette. And surely you heard Tiger fire back, dryly: "Not surprising he's complaining about something." And surely you heard Sergio say on Saturday night: "At least I'm true to myself … he's not my favorite guy on Tour … he's not the nicest guy on Tour … we don't enjoy each other's company."

[Related video: Sergio says he has no regrets from Sunday]

Gossip! Sergio and Tiger go public with mutual hatred! And to have them tied after the third round, playing for the richest purse on Tour! In his Ponte Vedra office, Tim Finchem cackled, rubbed his hands together and said to his secretary: "Get me NBC on the phone … tell them 'The Ratings Meister' is calling."

It was perfect that they were dueling on the day we all celebrate maternity, too – since each player's favorite word for the other includes the word "mother."

So the stage was set for Sergio to come through, to do something. He'd overcome a slump from 2009-11 and won last year for the first time since the '08 Players. He'd logged six top-20s this year entering Sawgrass. And now he was essentially calling out Tiger, doing everything short of challenging him to a fight after eighth-grade algebra class behind the faculty parking lot.

Sergio Garcia reacts as his tee shot on the 17th hole goes into the water. (AP)

Sergio Garcia reacts as his tee shot on the 17th hole goes into the water. (AP)

Tiger was in the penultimate pairing; Sergio in the final pairing. Sergio would have the red shirt within his eyesight all day Sunday. And when Tiger, stunningly, snap-hooked his tee shot on 14 into the water for a double bogey, watching his two-shot lead evaporate, Sergio seemed imbued with strength. He walked with a pace, birdied 16 and came to the 17th tee all knotted up on the leaderboard with his mortal enemy.

And then … splash. And splash again. And a career's worth of doubt in the face of Tiger, inadequacy in the face of Tiger, lameness in the face of Tiger came rushing back. Just like that.

Put another way, he'd rolled into the Sawgrass parking lot Sunday morning blasting Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" at full volume. He then rolled out of the Sawgrass parking lot late Sunday evening with the words 'JUST SHAMED' soaped across his rear window.

Afterward, he tried to sound philosophical, spending a generous amount of time with the media. Sergio said he under-hit it, overestimated his adrenaline, and "that hole has been good to me. Today, it wasn't. It's the way it is."

[Related: Sergio Garcia splashes two balls on Sawgrass' famed No. 17]

But as the session with the media wore on, Sergio admitted his Saturday evening nyah-nyah session with Tiger was "a little bit" of a distraction. And then, when another question came, Sergio bristled: "It sounds like I was the bad guy. I was the victim."

And there you had it. The career-defining line, on a career-defining day, after a career-defining hole for poor Sergio Garcia, the dogged victim of inexorable fate, and so much more.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

67-67-71-70 – 13-under 275, Tiger Woods, winner, The Players Championship, TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Man, this guy can do everything – except win a major.

Hey, now! Just kidding, Tiger-philes. If you're a regular reader of Lateral Hazard, you know I consider his climb back to No. 1, post-Escalade-into-a-tree, among his greatest career accomplishments. You also know I still have it better than even money he passes Jack Nicklaus with 19 major championships.

Johnny Miller even said on NBC Tiger could be approaching "2000-level" golf. Don't forget, he didn't win the Masters in 2000, either. He only won the U.S. Open (by 15 shots), the British Open and the PGA Championship instead.

Tiger has now won four times in seven PGA Tour starts, and that's sorta intergalactically insane. What's missing from his game, besides a major? He leads the entire Tour in strokes gained putting, and in total scoring. Any questions?

Tiger Woods tips his hat to the crowd on the 17th green. (USA Today)

Tiger Woods tips his hat to the crowd on the 17th green. (USA Today)



The return of the putter is the most mind-blowing aspect of his play. It would stand to reason he would lose some touch at age 37, not able to pour them home with impunity like he did when he was 24, in the summer of 2000. That Steve Stricker tip given before Bay Hill may loom as one of the turning points in golf history. The NBC crew noted he was beginning to walk his putts home, like escorting a date to the front door at the end of the evening. It's that 'Showdown With Bob May' strut, when he did the point-walk at Valhalla in 2000 as his putts were tracking. Is this guy putting on a show, or what?

Speaking of which, it appears Lindsey Vonn will be an active part of Tiger 2.0. Not only did they make the daring trip to New York for the red-carpet gala last week – heretofore an unthinkable distraction in Tiger's pre-Lindsey world – but she's tweeting about his game and hanging around every hole, not caring at all that TV cameras are focusing in on her. Whatever she's doing for him, it's working.

[Related: Tiger Woods nabs fourth win of 2013 thanks to late Sergio Garcia collapse]

The only time Tiger reminded us he's mortal was his snapped tee shot on 14. The 'lefts' can be a problem for Tiger, and it's something to remember come the U.S. Open at Merion next month. Johnny Miller openly questioned Tiger's drop on 14, and memories of Augusta National came rushing back. Somewhere, David Eger reached for his cell phone. But Roger Maltbie, walking with Tiger, quieted the charge by saying he thought the drop was OK, and Tiger says playing partner Casey Wittenberg OK'd the drop.

All that was left for Tiger was to enjoy Sergio's meltdown, wait for unknown Swede David Lingmerth's birdie try on 18 to miss, and the celebration was on. He bro-hugged caddie Joe LaCava in front of NBC cameras in the Sawgrass clubhouse, giving a pumped-up, "How about THAT, huh?" exclamation. LaCava, referencing Tiger's woes on Pete Dye-designed tracks and his lack of a Sawgrass win since 2001, said: "I told you you could get this track!" Smiles, everyone, smiles.

In his NBC interview with Steve Sands, Sands noted Tiger's four wins by May 12 were his fastest-to-four-wins in a calendar year in his career. Tiger smiled, and dropped this bomb on the golf world:

"I'm getting better."

You've been warned.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"It almost looks like he was playing for Merion. He wasn't using his driver. He was using that little 5-wood he loves, a few 3-woods, playing for position. All systems are 'go'." – Johnny Miller, NBC, already introducing the notion that Tiger Woods can tame the tight fairways of Merion Golf Club, site of next months' United States Open golf championship.

View photo

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Tiger Woods reacts to a putt on the 11th hole during the final round. (AP)

Tiger fans have already loaded their argumentative pistols when it comes to Merion, a short golf course that would seem to eliminate the advantage of Tiger's power game. "Remember Hoylake?" they ask, citing Tiger's demolition of the field at the 2006 British Open in Liverpool, using irons off nearly every tee. 

And they've got a point.

In classic Tiger form, he undermined any and all chatter about him dominating Merion with his precision game. When asked about possibly flexing Merion strategy at Sawgrass, he smiled and said: "I've never played Merion."

Tiger, you see, likes to control the talking points.

I'm on the side of the Hoylake-ists. When Tiger is putting the way he's putting, there's not a course on the globe that can stop him.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

I know I spent the first 800 words of this column shaking my head at the tragedy of Sergio Garcia, but you also know he's the runaway choice for Mully o' the Week.

Everybody and his or her mother – especially on Mother's Day – wanted a Tiger-Sergio playoff at Sawgrass. What would have happened? Shirts ripped off and a "Fight Club" bareknuckle brawl on the playoff hole at 17? A staredown? A Sumo-like bumping of bellies, until one falls in the man-made water hazard of Sawgrass?

[Rewind: Sergio Garcia: Tiger Woods 'not the nicest guy on tour’]

We were two pars away from Tiger and Sergio locking horns in the playoff of dreams. And yet, Sergio let us all down. His two dunked tee shots (he got wet on 18, too, in case there were any stragglers still defending him) removed all drama, handed Tiger the win and deprived us all of mouth-watering theatre.

So, let's head back out to the 17th tee, have Sergio breathe a few times into a brown paper bag, remind him that all his machismo needed to have a backing argument, as well, give Sergio the yardage, tell him it's just a little ole wedge and – give that El Nino a mulligan!

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

There was a time the Byron Nelson Invitational was a premier stop on Tour. Sadly, the world does not enjoy the charms of Lord Byron anymore, and the event has dropped a notch.

Still, Dustin Johnson, Keegan Bradley, Matt Kuchar and defending champ Jason Dufner will tee it up at Las Colinas outside of Dallas.

No Sergio Garcia, though. He'll be needing some 'me' time. No Tiger Woods, either. He'll be too busy watching the GIF of Sergio's tee shot on 17, on loop, over and over.

Video of Sergio Garcia's late meltdown at TPC

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