AUGUSTA, Ga. — Ten years ago, after nailing a flag stick that sent his ball 20-some feet from the pin during the British Open playoff, Sergio Garcia relented that the Golf Gods weren’t in his favor.
“I’m playing against a lot of guys out there,” he said after losing that Open Championship to Padraig Harrington, “more than the field.”
It’s understandable that the guy would think he’s cursed. He’d played in 31 majors, posting 12 top-10 finishes, including a clean sweep in 2002, yet he’d never managed to win one.
The more likely culprit in keeping Garcia from winning that major was a guy named Woods. But there’s no solace in being denied by one of the greatest ever, especially not when you stripe what you think is a potential winning shot only to be thwarted by awful, ill-timed bad luck.
A year later in the PGA Championship, Garcia held the lead going to 16 on the final round, plunked his approach into the drink and again finished runner-up to Harrington.
Now, in 2017, Sergio Garcia is 0-for-73 in majors, an active streak second only to Lee Westwood. Could the 74th time be a charm?
Garcia fired a 2-under 70 on Saturday in the third round of the Masters, which has him at 6-under for the tournament and tied for the lead with Justin Rose heading into Sunday’s final round.
It’s exactly where you’d want to be … if you were anyone but Sergio Garcia.
The curse of the Golf Gods is a very real thing, even for atheists. Real or not, they exist inside the heads of many a golfer, providing an excuse for everything.
“That putt hit a pebble!”
“That gust of wind blew my ball 50 yards right!”
“Damn flag stick! I hit that perfect.”
Yep, the Golf Gods.
They’re cruel and unfair more often than not, mainly because trees aren’t meant to be used as backboards to send your ball perfectly back into the middle of the fairway.
But that’s neither here nor there when you’re Sergio Garcia.
As a 19-year-old he had the tournament of a lifetime, the ’99 PGA Championship. You might remember it – the iron shot from behind a tree followed by the run and jump up a hill. It was just Garcia’s second major as a pro and he finished second, losing by a stroke to that guy Woods.
No biggie. Garcia was only 19 and already almost won his first major. He’d have plenty more opportunities …
Like the 2007 British Open, where Garcia led by four in the final round only to have his putt on 18 to win lip out, then moments later he’s penalized for being too accurate.
Or the 2008 PGA Championship that Garcia led through 69 holes and the wind kicked up, knocking his ball down into the water.
It all gets in your head to a point where you start wondering aloud if those Golf Gods are conspiring against you, which is exactly what Garcia has done in the past.
“It’s funny how some guys hit the pin and go to a foot,” he said back in 2008 after his ball hit that flagstick. “Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away.”
So here he is, now 37, tied for the lead at the Masters, with yet another shot. And he’s coming off a day in which the Golf Gods actually smiled on him.
The moment came at 13, Garcia with a 4-iron in his hand, going for the green in two. He striped it and watched as it sailed and sailed, only to die just short of the green, onto the slope that filters every single ball into the water in front.
Only Garica’s ball stayed dry, impossibly so, barely two feet from the water but safe.
Masters 2017: Sergio Garcia | 13th Hole, Round 3 pic.twitter.com/i6IgK0c4Gl
— Masters Highlights (@MastersMoments) April 8, 2017
He pitched up, knocked in the birdie putt, disaster averted.
After his round on Saturday, Garcia talked of his changing attitude. He used to loathe this place but says he’s come to accept its challenge. He said golf is fun again. And he talked about being calm.
“My mentality has changed a little bit, the way I’m taking things,” he said. “I’ve definitely had some good breaks.
Of the four majors, this would be the last most would pick Garcia to win. But then, nobody would have predicted 0-for-73 way back then, when a skinny 19-year-old was chasing his ball up the fairway at Medinah.
Eighteen holes stand between Sergio Garcia and his first major. Upon whom will the Golf Gods smile on Sunday?
More Masters coverage from Yahoo Sports:
• Jordan Spieth re-creates Phil Mickelson’s miracle shot
• Ranking possible Masters championship scenarios
• Masters green jacket up for auction, and it isn’t cheap
• Phil Mickelson’s gambling buddy convicted of insider trading