Sorensen: Garcia at crossroads of major breakthrough/flameout

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comApril 12, 2013 

— Sergio Garcia no longer is the 19-year-old who hits a great shot at the PGA Championship, runs up a hill to see where the ball goes and celebrates with a scissors kick.

Running is prohibited at the Masters and scissors kicks probably are, too.

So there was no running at the Masters on Thursday. Garcia birdies six holes, never bogeys, never wavers and shoots a 66 to tie Marc Leishman for the first-round lead.

Garcia has offered moments of brilliance before. He won his first club championship when he was 12 and his first European Tour championship when he was 19. He finished second to Tiger Woods in that scissors-kicking 1999 PGA Championship. He was Rory McIlroy first.

Yet he is known more for what he’s not than what he is.

Garcia’s career can be split into three distinct components.

He’s the young guy with potential.

He’s the less young guy with potential.

He’s 33.

Garcia has been successful certainly, winning eight PGA Tour tournaments and 10 European tournaments. He’s been a consistent Ryder Cup star.

But he was going to be elite. He’s not elite. He’s never won a major. McIlroy, 23, already has won a major.

Garcia has come close. He missed an 8-foot putt that would have won the 2007 Open Championship, a championship he lost in a playoff.

The Masters has especially vexed him, and he admits Augusta National is not his favorite. Last year he was a shot back after two rounds. He was in it. On Saturday he shot a 75. He was not in it.

After Saturday’s implosion he offered a concession speech: “I don’t have the thing I need to have. In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place.”

The statement was remarkable. His confidence, obviously, was not.

Garcia walks into the news conference after his 66 Thursday and before he speaks winks at a woman he knows.

At least for the moment he’s confident again.

“Obviously maybe I didn’t say it the right way because it was one of those frustrating moments,” Garcia says about his concession speech. “What I felt is that, you know, I definitely kind of shoot myself out of the tournament last year and that’s what I did on that Saturday. So I wasn’t wrong there.

“But…every time I tee off I try to play as well as I can, hope that my best that week is really, really good, and if I manage to do that I will have a chance at winning.”

With Garcia there also is the possibility if not probability his best won’t last. Remember the Wachovia Championship, Quail Hollow Club, Charlotte, 2005? For three days Garcia was brilliant. He led by six going into the final round. He didn’t win.

When he’s on, he can be thrilling. Not tall but compact and strong, he often strikes the ball beautifully. On Thursday he hits into the trees. The ball is doomed. Yet it goes through the woods and lands on the fairway.

Garcia has an interesting relationship with trees. Last month in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill he hit a ball into a tree and it stuck. He climbed a golf cart, pushed up as if he was mounting the parallel bars, climbed two branches and with one hand whacked the ball onto the fairway.

Would he do that at Augusta National?

“The branches are 60-feet high,” Garcia says.

Climbing a tree is something a carefree 19-year-old – full of confidence and joy and probably himself – does.

“I still get very excited about playing the game every single week and trying to win tournaments,” says Garcia. “But it’s obviously not the same feeling that (I had) when I was 19 or 20 or 21. But that’s kind of normal.”

Maybe normal is how he’ll be remembered – a good but not great player.

His best finish at the Masters is a 2004 tie for fourth.

If he sustains the promise he showed Thursday, he could finish second or third.

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