Wednesday 29 January 2020

Garcia takes major stride

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia

Oliver Brown

A revitalised Sergio Garcia was closing in on the Masters leaders last night as he attempted, like Lee Westwood, to shed his tag as the best player never to have won a Major, WRITES Oliver Brown.

The Spaniard demonstrated all the flourishes that have restored him to the world's top 25 this year, with six birdies in his 68 to advance to four-under par and a share of third place.

For 13 years, ever since he stared down Tiger Woods in the US PGA at Medinah, Garcia has been seeking the Major triumph that would justify all the hyperbole over his prodigious talent. It has proved the most frustrating quest. Time and again he has faltered within sight of the prize.

Memories of his late wobble in the British Open at Carnoustie in 2007, and again in the PGA at Oakland Hills the following year, are recalled with a shudder.

His return to the Major contenders was as welcome as it was familiar, but few can forget his tendency to wilt in this type of crucible. Judgment upon his progress needed to be reserved. This, lest we forget, is the same Garcia who shot an 89 at a wind-ravaged Carnoustie in 1999 and left the course inconsolable, in the arms of his mother.

At least Garcia appeared to be staying calm yesterday, reeling off a sequence of four birdies in his first eight holes, and then gaining two more, at the 12th and par-five 15th, only to be hampered by a second bogey at the last.

Garcia's strides yesterday were laudable for the fact that he has carried a nagging injury all week-- an infected nail on the middle finger of his left hand, which affects how strongly he can grip the club.

The complaint is the same one that forced him to withdraw from a British Open qualifier last year.

How, though, will Garcia cope as the tournament intensifies?

After all, he was jostling for the first-round lead at Doral only last month, before shooting 44 for the back nine.

Then there was the final-round 12 on his card in Miami to disfigure all his good work.

Garcia would have been well advised last night to solicit advice from Louis Oosthuizen, who established the early clubhouse lead at four-under, having added a composed 72 to a first-round 68.

The South African knows what it requires to hold nerve under pressure, having won the British Open by seven shots in 2010, and few would bet against him succeeding countryman Charl Schwartzel as this year's Masters champion. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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