AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – At the end of a question-and-answer session with the media Friday afternoon in which the big high-definition screens in the opulent new media building at Augusta National showed him with a share of the Masters lead, Sergio García said what so many were thinking.
“It’s Friday afternoon,” García said. “It’s not Sunday.”
But Masters weekends are for dreamers and the prospect of García with his stormy moods and empty major championship closet winning this windblown Masters is tantalizingly tasty.
For nearly two decades now, García has dazzled us with his ballstriking and occasionally disappointed us with his inherent ability to play the victim. When you’re 0-for-73 in majors it gets easier to feel put upon, though García often has seemed comfortable in the role of the aggrieved.
It was five years ago here that García said, “I don’t have the thing I need to win major championships.”
Maybe he’s found it.
It’s no secret that Augusta National with its precise demands and often maddening slopes has never been García’s favorite golf course. But García is 37 years old now, he’s engaged to be married in July and to hear him and those who know him well, he’s happy.
Following his press conference, García and his fiancée, Angela Akins, toured the two-story media center, practically walking into the lion’s den, stopping to chat with acquaintances along the way.
That’s easier to do after shooting 69 in another day of wicked winds that made playing Augusta National as pleasant as navigating through broken glass.
García birdied the first three holes Friday morning for the first time in his career.
“I didn’t know that but I learned that today,” García said.
His birdie at No. 1 was one of only three that have been made in two days in 186 attempts by the best players in the world.
“It calmed me down. It gave me a lot of confidence knowing that I probably stole one there,” García said.
As good as his start was, the highlight of García’s day came at the famous 12th where he buried his 9-iron tee shot in the front bunker after it drifted 3 yards off his intended line. From there, he made the near impossible look routine, leaving himself a 2-foot par putt.
“I would say, hands down, the best bunker shot I’ve ever hit,” García said. “I would have taken 3 any day of the week and twice on Sunday.”
There it is again.
That’s the one that’s never loved Sergio back. Not in a major anyway. He’s won nine times on the PGA Tour and 12 times on the European Tour. He’s won the Players Championship but – you may have heard – he’s never won a major.
His best Masters finish was a backdoor fourth place in 2004 when García shot 66 on Sunday. Otherwise, he’s usually been part of the scenery, like the azaleas.
Augusta National is golf’s ultimate lie detector. You can say you’re a good putter but the greens at Augusta National force you to prove it.
That has been part of García’s issue at The Masters. He has been a good putter at times but it runs hot and cold. More cold than hot when it’s mattered the most.
This season, García ranks 193rd on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting and 187th in total putting. From 3 feet, he ranks 191st. From 4 feet, he ranks 208th.
Last season, he was 168th in strokes gained putting. The year before that, he was 114th. You get the picture.
That’s the question García must answer this weekend at Augusta National when the wind is expected to subside but the tension will ratchet up with the temperature. Putting is largely technique but there is an element of attitude as well, particularly in García’s case. Augusta National is not his field of dreams.
“It’s not easy, because you try to think about all the good things that happened to you here,” García said. “But also, like I said before, there’s in a lot of these shots, there’s such a thin line between a good shot being next to the hole and a good shot being 40 feet away and then having a very difficult two-putt or something like that.
“So I guess at the end of the day, you try to not think about those and try to be as positive as possible.”
This is García’s 19th Masters. There are specks of gray in his beard and a few gray nubs in his short-cut hair. García insists he is trying to change, to not dwell on the negative, to find the positives. He’s getting better at it, he believes, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
If he never wins a major, García said, his victory will have been in staying healthy across the years, allowing himself to keep chasing what he doesn’t have.
And what if he finally lands that major championship, at Augusta of all places, on what would have been the 60th birthday of the patron saint of Spanish golf, Seve Ballesteros?
“It would mean … I don’t know,” García said. “It would mean a lot. It’s difficult to describe it until it happens.
“Hopefully, we’ll be standing here and we’ll be talking about that, that feeling again. That would be the best thing that could happen to me.”