Jump Start Sergio Garcia's gift-wrapped win at the Colonial ended the talk that his career had stalled after only two years on the PGA Tour

May 27, 2001

Five holes left to play at the MasterCard Colonial, and you could
cut the pathos with a knife. Atop the leader board were two
players in desperate need of a win. Over the next hour one man's
troubling reputation would be exploded, but the other's would be
confirmed.

How many times has Sergio Garcia teased us with his potential and
disappointed us with his performance? The week before the
Colonial marked the two-year anniversary of his PGA Tour debut, a
stunning 62 by the then 19-year-old in the opening round of the
Byron Nelson Classic. But it was not a joyous milestone. It had
been a winless 104 weeks, and Garcia's troubles transcended the
Monday morning agate. The onetime golden boy had been tarnished
by a series of squabbles, and he was outraged by the inquisition
into his father's teaching methods.

Last week in Fort Worth, Texas, more controversy surfaced--on the
morning of the opening round the European tour fined Garcia a
reported $7,150 for having blasted tournament officials over an
on-course ruling that cost him February's Greg Norman
International Open in Sydney. When Garcia got the news, though,
he didn't feel a thing. He was still numb from the terrible news
he'd gotten a week earlier, at the Nelson.

His cousin and boyhood companion, Jose Fernandez, was near death
in a Almeria, Spain, hospital as a result of a car accident.
Before teeing off in the Nelson, Garcia silently dedicated the
tournament to Fernandez. "I wanted to win for him so badly,"
Garcia admitted at the Colonial. He wanted it too much. He
labored to a 71, during which "I couldn't stop thinking about
Jose the whole day," said Garcia, who resolved to turn his
cousin's plight from a distraction into an inspiration. "I
thought of what he was going through, and that helped me play a
little bit harder," Garcia said. He shot 64-65 on the weekend to
tie for eighth. In Almeria, after three hours of surgery,
Fernandez's condition improved in kind.

Phil Mickelson entered the Colonial with six top three finishes
but only one victory, and he was lucky to get that one, winning a
bizarre playoff in San Diego with a double bogey. Mickelson has
risen to No. 2 in the World Ranking yet is the undisputed leader
in Sunday blunders. Earlier this month, after he'd squandered a
three-stroke lead in the final round in New Orleans, the whispers
became deafening: His putting stroke breaks down under pressure.
His swing is too loose to hold up for 72 holes. There were
questions about, well, pick a body part: heart, brains, nerves.

Mickelson hears everything, reads everything. He is obsessed with
his place in golf history. Sure, he has 18 Tour wins, but at age
30 he has famously never won a major. Come to think of it, he had
never won any of the Tour's grand old championships until his
comeback victory at last year's Colonial. The only player in the
tournament's 54-year history to repeat as champion is the
Colonial's patron saint, Ben Hogan. "To match one of the things
he had done would be special," said Mickelson, who gave himself
an opportunity by going 65-68-66 to take a share of the lead,
with wide-eyed Brett Quigley, into the final round.

Garcia was five shots back, and his consistent play was a needed
antidote to the turbulence in his life. After missing cuts at the
Masters and in Hilton Head, Garcia had gone home, ostensibly to
relax and work on his game with his father. Victor Garcia is the
only swing instructor his son has had, and Sergio's failure to
win in the U.S. (or anywhere else since the '99 German Masters)
had spurred discussion, especially in Spain, that perhaps Victor
should cede his duties to a more experienced instructor.

Sergio's frustration bubbled over at last month's Spanish Open.
"I want criticism of my father to stop," he railed in a
pretournament press conference. "He is hurt by it. If you want to
blame somebody for my form, blame me." This outburst led to a
two-inch-high headline in El Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona's sports
daily: DEJEN EN PAZ A MI PADRE (Leave my father in peace).

In truth, there isn't much to criticize about Garcia's game.
Though his iron play can be inconsistent, his long game has
improved dramatically since he turned pro. He's first on Tour in
total driving (and 14th in putting, a potent combination). What
has prevented him from winning is not his buggy-whip swing but
the impetuosity of youth. At Westchester last year he drove the
par-4 10th hole on Sunday and made birdie to take the lead, but
on the next hole he tried a ludicrous recovery shot from the
trees, took a double bogey and gave away the tournament. At Bay
Hill this year he was tied for the lead during the final round
but triple-bogeyed a par-5 hole and lost to his more prudent
playing partner, Tiger Woods. "I haven't played badly," Garcia
said last week. "I just haven't taken advantage of my
opportunities."

All that changed at the Colonial. Mickelson began the final round
by birdieing four of the first seven holes to reach 15 under.
Garcia also came out blazing. Eschewing his driver in favor of
low, stinging tee shots with a two-iron, he made six birdies and
shot 29 on the front side, which put him three back of Mickelson,
who then began to falter. Mickelson failed to get up and down at
the 8th hole, and when he rimmed out a three-footer at 9, his
lead was down to a stroke. Garcia caught him with a 10-foot
birdie putt at 13.

There was an air of inevitability to what happened next.
Mickelson lumbered around the back nine with slumped shoulders
and a hangdog expression, frequently shaking his head in disgust.
Garcia had a spring in his step. He radiated the kind of
enthusiasm that has been in short supply since he first charmed
the golfing public at the '99 PGA. With the tournament on the
line, he continued to lay up off the tee and play to the fat side
of the green, closing with five stress-free pars for a 63. "I
played really well and really smart," said Garcia, who hit 13 of
14 fairways as well as 16 greens in regulation. "That's what you
learn when you've been around awhile."

Mickelson, who has also been through this drill before, continued
to show a knack for hitting the wrong shot at the wrong time. He
lost the lead when he went for the pin at 14, jacking his
approach over the green, and in a final turn of the knife he
missed a two-footer for par on 17. Four over on the final 11
holes, Mickelson shot a 70 to finish two strokes back. "It seems
to be a recurring theme," he said. "I seem to have a mental block
on Sunday. It's frustrating."

As Garcia was holding forth in the champion's press conference,
his father slipped into the back of the room, bringing a huge
smile to Sergio's face. To catch a flight back to Spain, Victor
had left for the Dallas airport on Sunday morning while his son
was playing the front nine. At the airport Victor called home.
Briefed on the situation at the Colonial, Victor raced to the
course, the flight home be damned. After Sergio had answered the
last of the questions, he and his father shared a long embrace.
"We never doubted each other, even when everyone else was
doubting us," Victor said.

Sergio also had a few thoughts on the topic of patience. "I don't
know why, but somebody wanted me to wait for this victory," he
said. Was it worth the wait? "It's even sweeter than if I had won
my very first week," said Garcia, suddenly a wise old soul at
21.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DARREN CARROLL "It seems to be a recurring theme," Mickelson said of his manyfinal-round miscues. "I seem to have a mental block on Sunday."
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)