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Sergio Garcia crossed line with 'fried chicken' comment about Tiger Woods

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Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods' contentious relationship has kicked up a notch over the past couple weeks. (Get …


COMMENTARY
| Sergio Garcia crossed a line Tuesday he never should have toed.

At the European Tour's annual gala dinner ahead of its flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship in England, Garcia responded to a question asking if he would have dinner with Tiger Woods at next month's U.S. Open at Merion.

His reply, according to The Guardian: "We will have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken."

The comment can only be construed as racially charged, particularly if one harkens back to remarks made by Fuzzy Zoeller in 1997 after Tiger Woods won the Masters. Zoeller, the 1979 Masters winner, was asked about Woods' record-setting performance and injected several racial undertones – not to mention some overtones – into his response.

"That little boy is driving well and he's putting well," Zoeller said. "He's doing everything it takes to win. So, you know what you guys do when he gets in here? You pat him on the back and say congratulations and enjoy it and tell him not serve fried chicken next year. Got it? ... or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."

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Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia shake hands at TPC Sawgrass. (AP)

That comment haunts Zoeller to this day. It's one he regrets. He should.

Garcia will likely regret these comments. They are inappropriate and uncalled for under any circumstance. They're not justified. It's not merely an escalation in the exchange or verbal barbs traded by Garcia and Woods after an incident of etiquette that unfolded during their third-round pairing in The Players Championship.

Woods may have fudged the timing of events on the par-5 second hole. He may have said it was not surprising Garcia was whining. Again, none of that merited what Garcia said.

The Spaniard issued a statement through the European Tour on Tuesday, apologizing for his remarks.

"I apologize for any offense that may have been caused by my comment on stage during the European Tour Players' Awards dinner," Garcia said. "I answered a question that was clearly made towards me as a joke with a silly remark, but in no way was the comment meant in a racist manner."

That's not an unequivocal, unmistakable apology. Saying "Sorry if I offended you" is merely a way of apologizing for being caught.

Garcia's been caught doing and saying a number of things people haven't liked the 14 years he has been in the spotlight. Most times, however, Garcia has come across as self-wallowing and lamenting. He believes the golf gods are against him, that he's just playing for second place in the majors. Those kinds of things really only impact Garcia and the possibility of one day reaching his full potential as a player.

He spit in a cup at Doral in 2007 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, venting after a three-putt bogey at a par 3. Questioned about it on television, Garcia stumbled to provide an explanation for the inexplicable, much less a wholehearted apology.

"I just missed that [par] putt and wasn't too happy," Garcia told NBC Sports at the time. "But [the spit] did go in the middle [of the hole] and wasn't going to affect anyone else. If it did, I would have wiped it off."

That sounds an awful lot like his apology for what he said in reference to Woods on Monday night. Garcia essentially said, "Yup, I did it, and if anyone made a stink about it, then I would have apologized."

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Tiger Woods raises The Players championship trophy. (AP)

The 33 year old could have said any other kind of food. Snowballs would have been clean and funny as a reference to Woods' girlfriend Lindsey Vonn. He could've gone with Swedish meatballs as a more edgy shot across the bow about Woods' defunct marriage to Elin Nordegren. How about a Hank Haney reference and say "popsicles"?

Garcia chose to allude to fried chicken.

The ramifications for Garcia going forward depend on how he is viewed in the court of public opinion. He deserves to be skewered for saying something so insensitive.

The last guy that made a racial comment about Woods was the guy's former caddie, Steve Williams. A little more than a month after Woods fired him, the Kiwi put on an over-exuberant celebration following current boss Adam Scott's win in the 2011 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. At a function in China months later, Williams said the point of the jubilant display was to "shove it up that black arse----."

Williams is not nearly as visible as he was when with the world No. 1, but the comment didn't drive him out of the game. Hardly. Woods had little say in the broader reaction to what Williams said and will be unlikely to make much public acknowledgement of what Garcia said on Monday night.

Woods, however, got the latest laugh at Garcia when he hoisted The Players crystal trophy at TPC Sawgrass. Given how things have unfolded competitively between the two over the course of their careers, the laugh was not Woods' last.

Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.

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