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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia had gone from defending Masters champion to someone about to post a score that would cause shame for the lowliest of Sunday duffer. He was knocking shot after shot onto the green of the 15th hole here in the Masters only to see them spin back, sometimes swiftly, sometimes slowly, and roll back toward and into the front pond.
One went in. Then another. Then another. Then another. Then another still.
Five shots. Five in a row. Five Callaway Chrome Soft Xs finding a watery grave.
Five in the drink … by a major champion at a major championship.
“I don’t know,” Garcia said after the round, where a 13 on No. 15 doomed him to a 9-over-par 81 and a lot of work to do to avoid missing the cut on Friday. “I don’t know what to tell you. It’s one of those things. … I felt like I hit a lot of good shots and unfortunately the ball just didn’t want to stop.”
The crowd was gasping in shock and then horror and then regaling each other with stories of having done the same thing that one time at some muni back home. Garcia was going through golfing hell, but there was a kinship among the masses.
“He’s Tin Cupping it,” one fan said, referencing the immortal Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy of the 1995 movie (played by Kevin Costner) who, with a chance to win the U.S. Open, kept finding water and rather than smartly laying up kept shooting the same shot. He posted an unapologetic 12 to lose the tournament.
It wasn’t quite like that. Garcia wasn’t being headstrong or using the wrong club. If anything, the shots were pretty good, each one finding the green with a pin up front only to roll off down the hill and into the water.
“Oh man, I just wanted one of those to stay up for him,” said amateur Doc Redman, who was playing with him.
That was pretty much everyone’s sentiment. That included the guys halfway back up the fairway, where the group behind Garcia’s was backed up, waiting and watching. Actually, only Bubba Watson was really watching. Jason Day was so focused on his game he wasn’t paying attention, but as the delay went on, Watson approached Day.
“Bubba came up and told me [Garcia] was going for his 10th shot or something like that,” Day said.
Day looked like he didn’t believe it but when the next shot hit the water and the crowd reacted as you’d suspect it might, he started watching the train wreck. They didn’t know how many had gone in. They didn’t know the score. They didn’t know if he was setting any records – he would tie the highest score ever recorded on a hole at the Masters but fell short of John Daly’s epic seven at the 2011 Australian Open.
In the moment, no one knew much of anything.
There was concern whether Garcia would run out of golf balls and what exactly that might mean. A DQ? Even the players weren’t sure. Actually, USGA rules state a player can borrow balls if needed, or the rules official will get you the type and brand you need. Still, that would have been embarrassing.
It isn’t known exactly how many balls Garcia had, but other golfers and caddies that were asked said it’s standard to bring 6-12 for a round, not just for water but in case they wear out.
“[I bring] anywhere from six to nine,” Day said. “He was probably getting close there.”
A pro golfer’s bag doesn’t contain one of those golf ball retrievers, so fishing one back out would have been a challenge. There also isn’t a collection of water balls at the bottom of the bag, waiting years to come out. Well, not normally.
“I bring a ton,” Watson said. “I had 13 balls in my bag today just in case something like that happens. I’ll take the ones that hit off the cart path, well, they don’t have cart paths here, but I’ll take those and put them in the bag.”
Bubba Watson brings scuffed-up water balls with him?
“You always gotta have a water ball,” Watson said.
For Sergio, it didn’t get to that. Although anything felt possible as the balls kept getting wet. The first shot was a 6-iron from 206 out that almost stuck.
“I thought it was perfect,” Garcia said. “Straight at the flag. I don’t know, if it carries probably 2 more feet it’s probably good. And it probably carries a foot less, it probably doesn’t go off the green and probably stays on the fringe. But unfortunately I flew it on the perfect spot for it to come back.”
From there, his penalty shots couldn’t stay on the green.
“I kept hitting good shots with the sand wedge,” Garcia said. “The ball just wouldn’t stop.”
The problem was the front pin, which rested atop a false front that drains into the pond. There was no good place to hit the ball.
“That false edge is pretty significant,” Tiger Woods said. “It’s a very difficult pin.”
Tell it to Sergio, who came here looking to repeat as Masters champion and found himself the star of a golfing horror show. It may perfectly reflect his roller-coaster career – champion one round, punch line the next. His 13 was even a conundrum for the people who run the hand-operated scoreboards here. They didn’t have a 13 to post, so they made a new one by handwriting “13.”
Sergio just shrugged like Sergio does. He was sticking with his story that he played well and it just didn’t work out.
“It’s the first time in my career where I made a 13 without missing a shot,” Garcia said.
Tin Cup McAvoy couldn’t have said it any better.
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