Garcia romps clear to end title drought
Published 24/10/2011 | 05:00
THE superstar formerly known as 'El Nino' is reborn after Sergio Garcia conjured up the biggest victory of his roller-coaster career in front of family, friends and neighbours in Castellon yesterday.
It was noisier than Mario Balotelli's bathroom as fireworks exploded overhead in salute to a truly majestic performance by Garcia.
Unlike the Manchester City striker, Sergio burned up the golf course, not the clubhouse, as he romped 11 strokes clear of his nearest rival to register his first win in a miserable three years and banish any lingering demons of self-doubt.
Garcia's sensational winning total of 27-under is joint second-lowest in the history of the European Tour, exceeded only by the 29-under achieved by Ernie Els in the 2003 Johnnie Walker on a less exacting golf course.
Though the Campo del Mediterraneo served as Garcia's playground in his childhood -- and he won the inaugural Castello Masters here in '08 -- the depths to which he sank in recent seasons are well measured by his dismal missed cut in this tournament 12 months ago.
While Garcia's natural gift as a golfer never could be doubted, his spirit was broken.
It probably started with those two hugely painful Major championship reverses against Padraig Harrington at the '07 Open and '08 US PGA, while Ryder Cup humiliation at the hands of Anthony Kim at Valhalla certainly didn't help.
Getting the flick from Greg Norman's daughter Morgan-Leigh in '09 was another shuddering blow for a young man who had never before known rejection as he scrambled for self-assurance.
Garcia's career went into decline and a player who had ranked second in the world at the end of '08, started this year at No 78.
Yet time heals. Green shoots started to appear in Garcia's game this summer. He fought his way back into the elite top 50 and was surrounded by a new aura of optimism on his return home to Castellon.
Though he made a stodgy start to his tournament, playing his opening nine holes in one-over par, Sergio suddenly sparked into life after the turn, crucially making a big putt for par before rattling in five birdies on his way to an opening-day 67.
Garcia was three behind leader Ross McGowan after those opening 18 holes but there was a gleam of confidence in his eye, while his putting stroke (with that unusual 'pencil-grip') looked as smooth and as sure as it once did when the El Nino of old used to roam the fairways.
Inevitably, the rest of his game fell into place. Garcia's ball-striking was superlative, his iron-play imperious as he reeled off rounds of rounds of 63, 64 and 63 again yesterday.
Sergio obliterated the opposition and strode to the biggest winning margin on the European Tour in 2011 and of his career. His previous best had been four strokes.
The only bogey in his final 33 holes came on the torrid par-four 17th, after he hit his tee shot into deep rough and then wound up in a plugged lie in the face of a greenside bunker.
A facile birdie at the last, his 27th of a week which also featured two eagles, was more in keeping with a performance which signalled that at 31, Garcia is once again ready to take on the world.
As he left the final green, Sergio pointed to the heavens and dedicated his ninth win in Europe (he has also had seven on the US PGA Tour) to the late Seve Ballesteros, then spoke of the joy of winning in front of his family, new girlfriend and neighbours.
"I would like to thank not only my family and friends, but also my sponsors, everyone that's around me, for supporting me through two tough years," he said.
"They have stuck with me and believed in me and I'm happy to be able to pay them back with this victory," he added.