Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Golf

Garcia, Augusta are buddies for a day

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AUGUSTA, Ga.

For a day, they reached an uneasy truce, this course and this competitor. For a day, he was good enough, and precise enough, and poised enough. For a day, the course was forgiving enough.

A year after Sergio Garcia surrendered to Augusta National, a year after he threw up his hands and pronounced the Masters as out of his reach, Garcia showed up and found … Sunnybrook Farm.

For once, the ground was soft enough to plow and the greens were firm enough to plant a garden. Every drive seemed to be good enough, and every chip seemed to hug the flag, and every putt seemed to find the cup. It was almost as if Augusta National was trying to make up for the torment it had caused Garcia over the years.

Talk about the good earth. Garcia and Augusta National were buddies on Thursday. Garcia hit six birdies, and he twice saved par with a bit of maneuvering, and he finished with a tidy 6-under 66 that left him tied for the lead with Marc Leishman.

So, Sergio, do you trust the track yet? Or are you still looking over your shoulder?

"It's obviously not my most favorite place," Garcia, 33, said. "But we'll try to enjoy it as much as we can. Sometimes, it comes out better than others, but today, it was one of the good days. And you know, let's enjoy it while it lasts."

Even with a 66, it is clear Garcia isn't prepared to homestead. This is still the tournament that drove him crazy a year ago. Back then, after a third-round 75, Garcia told Spanish media he couldn't win at the Masters … or at any major.

"I'm not good enough," he said. "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." A day later, he backed that up to English-speaking reporters by saying, "Do you think I lie when I talk? Everything I say, I say it because I feel it. If I didn't mean it, I couldn't stand here and lie like a lot of the guys do. If I felt like I could win, I would do it."

Boy, did Garcia make a liar out of himself. Physically, he mastered the first round of the Masters. But mentally, it's easy to wonder about his attitude toward this place.

These days, Garcia says there was a lot of frustration in what he said, and maybe that's true. Over his career, Garcia has 17 top-10 major finishes but no championships. Last year, he played the Masters about as well as he could imagine, and he tied for 12th.

"Those are my words," Garcia said. "But at the end of the day, we go through moments, tough moments, and frustrating moments. It was one of them.

"Obviously, maybe I didn't say it the right way. What I felt is that I kind of shot myself out of the tournament. I wasn't wrong there. But every time I tee it off, I try to play as well as I can. I hope my best is really, really good, and if I manage to do that, I will have a chance at winning. If my best isn't that good, I'll struggle a little bit."

In other words, hang on. The weekend is just getting started.

For golfers, even professional golfers, the mental part of the game is crucial. Ask Leishman, who spent his first trip to Augusta gawking like a tourist. He spent so much time looking at the sites that he forgot about getting the ball into the hole. That's solved. Consider David Lynn, playing in his first tournament here but amazingly focused. Consider Tiger Woods, who is within four strokes after a day, and his famed concentration.

In other words, this course will slap you around if you waver. No one should know that better than Garcia. Focus was his greatest asset on Thursday; now, we'll see about the rest of the week.

"The first 10 holes showed me a lot because of how well I hit every single shot. To tell you the truth, if I mange to make a couple of putts that kind of stayed around the lip, I could have been 7 or 8 under through 10. It was that good. The last eight holes, I kept my composure even though I didn't hit it as well as I did the first 10."

No one ever questioned Garcia's skills. A popular YouTube video shows Garcia climbing a tree at Bay Hill, spanking a one-handed shot to safety then hopping down.

"Well, one thing is for sure," Gar­cia said. "If I hit on top of a tree here, there's no chance of getting to that because the branches are 60 feet high."

On a day like this, however, those branches would embrace Garcia and nestle him back to the ground. For a day, at least, this place liked Garcia.

Whether it will like Garcia today, and whether Garcia will return the feeling, remains to be seen.

After all, a man and his golf course remain an evolving relationship, and nothing is more fickle than a pin placement.

Masters leaderboard

Marc Leishman66-6

Sergio Garcia66-6

Dustin Johnson67-5

David Lynn68-4

Rickie Fowler68-4

Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano68-4

Trevor Immelman68-4

Fred Couples68-4

Matt Kuchar68-4

Notables

Tiger Woods70-2

Phil Mickelson71-1

Rory McIlroy72E

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