Sergio Garcia wins in Thailand
To say it’s been a roller coaster year for Sergio Garcia would be an understatement. Coming into this week’s Thailand Golf Championship, Garcia had put together an impressive season of finishes, albeit without a win to his credit. Of course, he probably should have had at least one by this point, with three 54-hole leads blown on the PGA Tour in 2013, most notably at the PLAYERS Championship when he was right in the middle of his spat with Tiger Woods.
Garcia entered this week in good form after finishing as the runner-up to Thomas Bjorn in South Africa, and with prior success at Amata Spring, he was considered one of the favourites in a field that included Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Hunter Mahan and defending champion Charl Schwartzel. This may not have been a marquee event on the golf calendar, but the field, thanks to some generous appearance fees, made it feel like one.
Garcia, with girlfriend and German golfer Katharina Boehm caddying for him, built a four-shot lead heading into Sunday over Stenson. With Garcia’s penchant to blow leads on Sunday combined with arguably the best player in the world at the moment chasing him, it was no certainty that Garcia would come away with his first win since last December’s Johor Open. Of his twelve worst rounds in 2013, nine of them came in the final round.
Stenson was able to cut the lead at points to two shots, but Garcia never gave him any more than that, eventually finishing at 22-under par and keeping that four-shot lead intact with a final round 68. The superb ball striking was on display as usual from Garcia, but the putter was equally impressive, with several good par saves to go along with a few birdie putts that found their way into the hole.
Garcia’s difficulties on the greens have been well documented in his career, and it’s not a stretch to say that if he had been even an average professional putter in his career, that he’d likely have at least one major championship on his resume, but he’s turned that detriment into a real strength. This year, Garcia finished 8th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained putting with an average of .611 shots gained on the field per round, putting him in the company of players like Steve Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Aaron Baddeley, guys known for excelling on the greens. Switching to the pencil grip seems to have reinvigorated his game on the putting surface.
This win also moves him into 10th place in the Official World Golf Rankings, a spot that he will occupy in the end of year rankings with no significant events remaining in 2013. When was the last time Garcia cracked the top-10? Over four years ago when the December 6th, 2009 rankings were released. For someone as talented as him, that’s way too long to spend outside the top-10 in the world.
The focus with him, as always, will turn to the major championships. He’s said himself that maybe he isn’t good enough to win one of them, but anyone who follows the game closely knows that’s simply not true. Much like Rory McIlroy, I think it’s all too easy to forget how young Garcia is because he’s been in the public eye for so long. At 33 years old, which is three years younger than Jason Dufner, he’s got plenty of time and game to win not just one, but several major championships.
With his putter seemingly in order, it appears to now be solely a mental issue for Garcia, like it often is with so many players, elite and recreational, that play this game. That mental side was what caused his fall from the sport back in 2011, but he appears to be in the best place that we’ve seen him in several years, and the physical tools might be better than ever as well. He’s going to win one of those majors, and maybe just like Phil Mickelson, once the first one is out of the way, the floodgates will open.
He’s been on our radar for fourteen years now and has had lots of success, but we have yet to see the best of Sergio Garcia. The time is now.