Wednesday 21 February 2018

Tiger is still bludgeoning his old enemy Tweetie Pie

Woods and Garcia reignited their intense rivalry at Augusta, writes Lawrence Donegan

Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods
Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods

After bad blood comes conciliatory statements, after the conciliation comes the spite, after the completion of Friday's play at Augusta came the pairing that drew a sharp intake of breath, a nervous giggle of excitement.

Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, on the first tee at 1.15 of a humid Masters afternoon. Tiger and Sergio, the central characters in modern golf's most enduring feud. Star-crossed 'rivals' who have somehow coexisted in this tiny world of professional golf, their paths never crossing except to bark and snap at each other. Professional golf has known many divorces but never one as fractious as the one between Woods and Garcia.

Still yesterday's draw sheet demanded they play together. So the crowds gathered 10-deep around the putting green adjacent to the first tee, watching Woods casually drop a pair of 45-footers, whispering of the drama to unfold and reminiscing about the infamous occasion at the 2013 Players when Garcia accused Woods of deliberately causing a disturbance during his backswing and Woods accused Garcia of being a world-class whinger, or words to that effect.

Fisticuffs were unlikely - this is the Masters, after all. But those expecting to bathe in the warmth of reflected admiration were nowhere to be found either. Who would make the first move?

Well, Sergio had already done that, tweeting - twice - before the round that he and Tiger respected each other. And he was a conciliatory figure when the two met face to face offering his hand to Woods, who accepted it with grace. As handshakes go it was hardly Sadat and Begin but it met the required standards of decorum. Let the golf begin.

Woods whacked his three-wood down the middle of the fairway, Garcia whacked his driver a bit further. And off they went for a lengthy stroll through the cathedral pines. Long, friendly chats about the family and plans for summer holidays were not expected.

Like many epic feuds this one began with the promise of friendship or at least the enticing prospect of a respectful rivalry. Woods may have won the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah but the abiding memory of that tournament was of the ingenue Garcia sprinting up a fairway, unable to contain himself after hitting a great recovery shot from the trees.

The Spaniard seemed irrepressible in such moments to everyone but Woods, who eventually won the tournament by a shot. The aftermath was filled with warm words from both men, although with the benefit of hindsight - the greatest of all interpretive gifts when it comes analysing fractured relationships - it is possible to detect a little edge to what each had to say.

Garcia, who was only 19 at the time, had just secured his place in Europe's 1999 Ryder Cup and only had one thought on his mind when asked about the coming contest at Brookline Country Club: "I want to play Tiger." Woods, who was 24 at the time said: "I'm not that old. I'm not over the hill yet," evidently displeased the Spanish teenager was getting most of the attention. The seeds of conflict were sown.

In the strictest golfing sense the rivalry never materialised. Woods in the early years of the new millennium was simply too good for anyone else. Some accepted their place in a golfing world dominated by Woods. Garcia simply did not. Witness his complaints at being left out to play in torrential rain during the 2002 US Open at Bethpage. "If Tiger Woods had been out there it [play] would have been called [off],'' he said. His complaints were seized upon by the voracious, and pro-Tiger US media who christened him "Waggle Boy" (a reference to Garcia's tortuous pre-shot routine).

Throughout all of this Woods said nothing - yet away from the microphones there was a suspicion he took great pleasure in Garcia's discomfort. At the 2006 Open Championship the two men were paired together in the final group, with the dominant Woods going on to win beating his playing partner (dressed head to toe in canary yellow) by five shots on the day.

Afterwards, he reportedly texted friends to say he had "bludgeoned Tweetie Pie".

Garcia was not dressed like a cartoon character yesterday but neither man would be true to himself, or the enmity they have created, if they did not set off for the round with hopes of delivering another bludgeoning.

In the end, Tiger won this latest battle, his 68 beating Sergio's 71


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