Tuesday 16 January 2018

Why is it so easy to dislike Sergio?

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia

Karl MacGinty

ANGELS and demons! Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia certainly know both sides of that fickle equation. It doesn't need Sherlock Holmes to work out why Tiger's such a big hit with the galleries right now, while the reasons for his sudden and shocking descent into ignominy in November 2009 could not have been more graphic.

Explaining how Sergio Garcia, once universally feted as world golf's dashing young prince, became so easy to dislike is less simply explained.

Maybe the booze was talking on Sunday at Sawgrass, when boorish elements on the packed grass terraces surrounding the 17th poured derision on the 33-year-old as his tournament fell asunder.

"I think our pension is funded by beers sold on 17," Paul Goydos pointedly said in 2008 after losing his tee-shot in the water and a play-off to Sergio in front of the same baying pack.

Tour rookie David Lingmerth (25) was dismayed by the crowd's 'heckling' as his Spanish playing companion hit two shots into water on the way to the disastrous seven that effectively made Tiger's day. "Some of the crowd weren't acting great against him and that made me feel a little weird," said Lingmerth.

The Swede, who produced an eye-opening performance as he tied second with sprightly 49-year-old veteran Jeff Maggert and Kevin Streelman, initially thought Garcia's tee-shot to the island green was a cracker.


"It looked so pure coming off the face," Lingmerth explained. "Then the wind hit it and it fell into the water. My heart dropped because he'd been playing so well. I felt bad for him. Then he hit it in the water again and the same thing happened all over (with the crowd). It was sad to see because we'd such a good day out there."

Garcia shared the lead with Tiger on 13-under after a birdie at 16 but there was no shame and little embarrassment in his watery demise at 17. Instead, he let himself down badly with Saturday afternoon's TV rant against Tiger, when he apportioned blame to Woods for a bad shot which caused Garcia to take an ugly bogey six at the second hole.

No question, Woods caused the crowd to cheer excitedly on Garcia's backswing by drawing a fairway wood from his bag, thereby signalling his intent to play a swashbuckling shot from the rough.

He didn't do it on purpose. Video footage of the incident showed Tiger frantically waving for silence and gesturing towards Garcia at the time.

Despite this evidence, Woods suggested afterwards that marshals had told him Sergio had already played. A simple apology would have been more appropriate.

Yet their antipathy towards each other and Garcia's whining about the incident on TV would have made it hard for St Francis to turn the other cheek. In one sense, Sergio must be congratulated for refusing to bury his dislike for Woods under the sickly-sweet, sugar-speak usually uttered on Tour. "I'm not going to lie, he's not my favourite guy to play with," Garcia said. "He's not the nicest guy on Tour."

Though careful not to take sides, Lingmerth paid tribute to Garcia for helping put a relative novice – the Swede made the play-off at January's Humana Challenge – at his ease on Sunday. "Sergio was really friendly from the get-go. We'd a good day out there and he's a great guy."

Most others joined the rush to judgment following Tiger's scalding dismissal of Garcia's 'whingeing', a practice which gets particularly short shrift in the USA.

Found guilty and pilloried by the masses, Garcia's parting words on Sunday were pithy: "It sounds like I was the bad guy here. I was the victim."

Sport expects its champions to be made of sterner stuff. Instead of accepting adversity and using it to steel himself, Garcia appears to have regressed, not grown, through experience.

Woods, on the other hand, is a warrior, like Jack Nicklaus. Rory McIlroy also showed the right stuff by taking his Sunday afternoon meltdown at Augusta in 2011 and moulding it into victory 70 days later at the US Open.

Inevitably, Garcia was crushed to lose to Padraig Harrington on Sunday at the 2008 PGA Championship, especially as it came so soon after the dogged Dubliner denied him his 'birthright' in sudden death at the 2007 Open in Carnoustie. While outside factors may have been at play, including, for example, the break-up of his relationship with Greg Norman's daughter early in 2009, Garcia appeared to wallow in his misfortune at the Majors for the next two years.

His plaintive cry after a weekend collapse at the 2012 Masters that, "I'm not good enough, I don't have the thing I need to have (to win at the Majors)," also reeked of self-pity from one of the most gloriously gifted golfers alive.

It's a joy to see Garcia shake off his straitjacket and play to his full potential, as he did for much of the back nine at Sawgrass last Sunday.

It's shameful that the seven at 17 (followed by a double-bogey six at 18 which consigned him to a share of eighth place with Rory McIlroy on seven-under), would inspire such revelry in the crowd.

How staggering the contrast between Sunday's poison and near deafening chants of "Ser-g-io, Ser-g-io" raised for Garcia, at 19 golf's new sensation, when he got to within one stroke of Tiger at the 1999 US PGA at Medinah.

"It looks like they love me," he gushed. "I said when I turned pro, I wanted to be No 1 in the world. So I knew I'd be a rival for Tiger."

Those words seemed refreshing; as was Sergio's pause after his birdie at 13 that Sunday afternoon to cheekily cock a snook at Tiger standing at the tee; as was his skip and run across the 16th fairway to follow the line of an audacious six-iron shot from behind a tree to the green. Refreshing, that is, unless your name was Tiger Woods!

Along with the glory, Garcia weathered a few storms as he grew – like the stick he took from the New York crowd at the 2002 US Open as they screamed "hit it" and stridently counted the number of waggles he made over his ball; or that disgusting faux pas at Doral in 2007 when he followed a three-putt by spitting into the cup.

Garcia has grown into a sometimes brilliant but too often sombre and self-doubting individual who too readily seized on last Saturday's opportunity to blame another. Fate will always conspire against that Sergio... in turn, making him the perfect victim.

Irish Independent

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