PONTE VEDRA BEACH
In his 10th year as a pro, Sergio Garcia has been an enigma. No other player younger than 32-year-old Tiger Woods has contended so often in the majors and showed so much variety in his game.
"He's like Tiger," said Paul Goydos, who was two shots back of Garcia Thursday at the Players Championship. "His go-to shot is the shot that's needed."
But frustration has been setting in over three winless seasons, dating to the old Booz Allen Classic at Congressional in Bethesda, Md., and Garcia recently turned to putting guru Stan Utley for help. This was a major move, for Garcia has relied almost exclusively on his father for help.
"My main idea was to get back to the way I used to putt, like 10 or 12 years ago, when I was a good putter," Garcia said. "At least now I have some rounds where I come out and say I actually shot what I should have shot, and not come out and think, 'I should have been four or five shots better' … which is always not very nice."
Garcia, 28, is tied with Adam Scott for most PGA Tour victories (six) by players under 30.
Couples bides time
Fred Couples didn't realize until a few months ago that he wasn't eligible for the Players Championship, an event he has won twice and counts among his favorite.
Couples missed nearly all of last year with back problems, so he wasn't among the top 125 on the money list. But with so many players pulling out, from Tiger Woods to Martin Kaymer, Couples kept moving up the alternate list until he got in.
He made the most out of his 25th start at TPC Sawgrass.
Couples was among the leaders until bogey from the bunker on the 14th, and a three-putt bogey on the 17th, leading to 2-under 70, four back. But he can only imagine being at Sawgrass and waiting to hear if he got in.
"Not to be mean, I just don't have that in me," he said. "If I sat here for three days and didn't get in, I think I'd be miserable for a month."
One man's treasure
Tom Lehman's tee shot on the 17th hole narrowly stayed on the fringe, keeping intact his amazing luck on the island green. He has played that hole 59 times, and only once has found the water, the second round last year.
The flip side is Charles Howell.
He looked disgusted when his tee shot went over the back and into the water, but that should not have come as a surprise. Howell is 18-over par on the par-3 17th in his seven years at the Players Championship.
Els' frustrating triple
Ernie Els was 2 under until his wedge came up 20 feet short of the island green on the 17th, and he barely kept his third shot on land. He wound up with triple bogey, and a 12-foot birdie on the final hole for 72 didn't improve his spirits much. "I think they should blow it up," Els said. "Everything you worked for in 4½ hours, in one shot it's all gone."
Respect the superstition
When Paul Goydos normally reaches the famed No. 17 island green during practice rounds, he reaches into his bag, grabs a few old balls and tosses them into the murky lagoon as some sort of offering to the golf gods.
He forgot to do it this week.
Maybe he should have. Goydos landed his tee shot, an 8-iron from 146 yards, pin high and it bounced over the back edge. He ended up with bogey.
"When I hit it, I had a bad feeling I hit it too good," said Goydos, who shot 4-under 68 and was two shots behind leader Sergio Garcia. "I don't have that feeling very often. I was kind of hoping it was an optical illusion that it was going so far."
Goydos bounced back from the bogey with par on the difficult 18th, then made three consecutive birdies to start his back nine.
Masters champion Trevor Immelman, Hunter Mahan, Ryan Armour, Cameron Beckman and Jason Gore withdrew.
Immelman headed home to Orlando after he woke up with a stomach virus, leaving the PGA Tour's flagship event without the last two major champions. PGA champion Tiger Woods missed the tournament while recovering from knee surgery.
Mahan and Gore also withdrew because of illness. Armour withdrew after the first round. He shot 9-over 81.
Immelman has had a tough time since winning the Masters by three shots over Woods. He failed to break par in his last two tournaments, missing the cut at the Byron Nelson Championship and the Wachovia Championship.
Immelman was replaced by Dustin Johnson, a 23-year-old rookie who opened with 73.
It's a fact
Phil Mickelson was at 70, trying to become the first repeat winner in the 34-year history of the event. … Twenty balls found the water on the 17th, to 50 last year. … Eight of the 34 players who broke par played in the afternoon. … Sergio Garcia is 17-under par in his past three rounds at TPC Sawgrass.
"The course tempts you into doing really stupid things." — Paul Goydos
Partly cloudy and windy, 20-30 mph, high 88.
Mhairi McKay, a 33-year-old Scot, shot a course record-tying 63, and a potential battle looms between Lorena Ochoa (65) and Annika Sorenstam (64) in the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Va. Michelle Wie, playing her first round on the LPGA Tour since February, managed just one birdie in a zigzagging 4-over 75 on a soggy day. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot 74. … John Daly shot 5-under 67 to trail co-leaders Ross McGowan and Marco Ruiz by three strokes after the first round of the European PGA's Italian Open in Milan.
Compiled from Times wires