Power Serg Nearly flawless off the tee as well as from the fairway, a vastly improved Sergio Garcia put it all together at the Nelson

May 23, 2004

Welcome to the world of extreme makeovers. Remember the old PGA
Tour--Tiger Woods and the Seven Dwarfs? Forget it. The Tour has
gone for the trendy Friends look. We may not be talking NFL-style
parity, but what has transpired is still a wind tunnel of fresh
air. ¶ While Woods has stopped playing the kind of golf that
carried him to eight major championships, Vijay Singh, who broke
Woods's four-year reign as the leading money winner last season,
already has three victories--two more than Tiger--in '04. Masters
champion Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner, has taken over as Mr.
Consistent. Ernie Els, edged by Mickelson at Augusta, has
victories on both sides of the Atlantic. And after last week's
EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, Texas, it might not be
a stretch to add a fifth member to the Fab Four, Sergio Garcia.

Garcia's hard-fought win, his first on Tour since the 2002
Mercedes Championships, could mark his reemergence as a bona fide
star. While Woods failed to hold a 36-hole lead for the second
week in a row--he had previously won 18 straight times when ahead
halfway through a tournament--Garcia shot a brilliant
five-under-par 65 last Saturday, then hung on with a 71 on Sunday
and survived a brief, ugly playoff with Robert Damron and Dudley
Hart.

Garcia, 24, has yet to win a major, his putting remains suspect,
and his maturity is still in question in the wake of his curious
poutathon after a final-round 66 and fourth-place finish at the
Masters. In this year of reversals, however, it's time to take
Garcia seriously. More seriously, certainly, than the fan who
dissed the Spaniard as he stepped off the 72nd tee following a
perfect drive. "Serrr-gio, you're not going to win," the lout
called out. Less than a half hour later, when Garcia accepted the
trophy and a winner's check for $1,044,000, he dedicated the
victory to the Nelson's large, supportive galleries (an estimated
85,000 fans showed up on Saturday alone), and "to the guy on 18
who said I wasn't going to win." The appreciative crowd whooped
with laughter.

Still, the focus of everyone's attention remains, as always, on
Woods. For the second straight week he finished only a shot out
of a playoff. Just as he had been the week before, at the
Wachovia Championship, he was done in by his tee shots, hitting a
mere 23 of 56 fairways--and only three on Sunday--but he closed
70-69 to finish at nine under par, one behind Damron, Garcia and
Hart.

"When he finds his tee ball, which he will, we're all in for a
world of hurt," says John Cook, a neighbor and FOT (Friend of
Tiger). "He's not missing cuts and shooting 78s. He only needs to
get his confidence back and eliminate one side of the course off
the tee. I see him at Isleworth, and he pounds a flag that's out
there about 320--shaping it both ways. But you get on a course
with boundaries and it's different, even for the world's Number 1
player."

Garcia's and Woods's roles were reversed in an eerie way on
Sunday as Sergio, waiting on the par-3 17th tee at Las Colinas,
watched Tiger putt out in the group ahead. The moment was
reminiscent of the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship at
Medinah, during which a charging Garcia waved at Woods back on
the tee after making a birdie on the par-3 13th hole. The
difference was that when Woods rolled in a 30-footer to close to
within a stroke of the lead, Tiger never looked back. "I knew it
was for a 2, but he didn't go all that wild," Garcia said, "so I
figured he wasn't at 10 under. I knew he still had to play 18,
and he hasn't been driving it that great." Sure enough, Woods
yanked his tee shot into the trees, ending any chance of making a
tying birdie. He wound up in a tie for fourth.

In the playoff Hart found the left rough off the tee, sent his
approach right of the green, flubbed a flop and made an
embarrassing double-bogey 6. Damron, who had won this tournament
in 2001 for his lone Tour victory, played a weak approach from
the fairway that left him 55 feet from the hole. His first putt
stopped 3 1/2 feet short, and he gassed his par attempt, missing
left. "I butchered it," Damron said. "It wasn't poor preparation
or a bad read, it was simply not a good stroke. You really hate
to lose that way."

That Garcia won with a tap-in par was fitting. All week he played
the kind of flawless fairways-and-greens game that was once
Woods's trademark. Garcia missed only one fairway and hit all 18
greens in regulation during the third round as he took a
two-stoke lead with a 65. For the week he led the tournament in
greens in reg, with 59 of 72.

The swing changes Garcia worked on throughout the 2003 season
with his father and coach, Victor, can now be filed under Old
News. They had become ingrained, according to Sergio, in time for
last September's American Express Championship, at which he
finished 12th. Always a good driver, Garcia has vastly improved
his iron play, and, most important, his bad shots are not so
awful. He may now be ready to live up to the potential he showed
at Medinah, where he got America's attention with an eyes-closed
iron shot off a tree root, followed by a guileless sprint up the
fairway and a scissors kick to see where the ball had landed.
"Everybody was writing that he and Tiger would be rivals, but
they jumped the gun," says Tour veteran Nick Price, who had a
fourth straight top 10 finish at the Nelson, coming in seventh.
"It was like the old rider and the new rider. The new rider,
Sergio, was eager to take the first ride, but he was quick to get
bucked off."

At the Nelson, the buck stopped with Garcia. When he accepted the
winner's trophy, a figurine of Byron Nelson, he told the
92-year-old tournament host, "Now I'll get to see you every day."

"Well," Nelson replied, "keep it polished for next year."

He meant the statuette, but he could have been referring to
Garcia's new game.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN ON THE UPTICK His swing changes ingrained, Garcia hit every green and all but one fairway in the third round. FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID BERGMAN SUDDEN DEATH Hart (left) flubbed his flop, and then Damron "butchered" a 3 1/2-footer to end a playoff on the 1st hole.

FAB FOUR
Vijay Singh is not the only one gaining on No. 1-ranked Tiger
Woods. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson have closed the gap too.
Here's a comparison of golf's Four Horsemen.

WOODS

WHAT'S NEXT
Walk down the aisle

TELLING QUOTE
"I won't be Number 1 forever. Every streak comes to an end.
That's simply a fact of life."

VICTORIES (MAJORS)
47 (8)

MONTHS SINCE LAST MAJOR WIN
23

TELLTALE STATS
Driving accuracy (159th, 56.4%); birdies per round (2nd,
4.59)

COMMERCIAL HIGHLIGHT
Watching Charles Barkley swing, he cracks up when a Tiger
headcover, Frank, announces, "Cleanup in aisle
4!"

SPECIAL FRIEND
Mark O'Meara

OUTSIDE OPINION
David Feherty: "Tiger can't play like he did all the time. You
can tell he's weary of being compared to himself."

RIVAL
Jack Nicklaus

SHINNECOCK IN 1995
WD'd after injuring wrist hacking in the hay

NAGGING QUESTION
His ability to intimidate diminished and his distance advantage
mostly gone, can he still dominate?

BOTTOM LINE
The new reality: Tiger must prove that he's still worthy of No.
1.

SINGH

[WHAT'S NEXT]
No. 1

[TELLING QUOTE]
"I feel as if I'm playing well now, and if people think I'm the
best player in the world, that's fine."

[VICTORIES (MAJORS)]
40 (2)

[MONTHS SINCE LAST MAJOR WIN]
49

[TELLTALE STATS]
Greens hit in regulation (1st, 73.1%); scoring (2nd, 69.25)

[COMMERCIAL HIGHLIGHT]
Declined opportunity to debate merits of KFC extra crispy with
Annika Sorenstam. His proposed big line: "You know how I
feel."

[SPECIAL FRIEND]
Ted Forstmann

[OUTSIDE OPINION]
Tiger Woods: "Vijay certainly should get all the respect in the
world, because he's worked his game to a level where he's
consistent and able to pretty much contend in every
tournament."

[RIVAL]
Tiger Woods

[SHINNECOCK IN 1995]
T10th, with 15 more putts than winner Corey
Pavin

[NAGGING QUESTION]
Can he beat Tiger when it matters? His three '04 wins have all
come against so-so, Tiger-less fields.

[BOTTOM LINE]
He's 41 and needs a belly putter, but if No. 1 can be reached by
sheer determination, he'll succeed.

ELS

[WHAT'S NEXT]
Comeback from Masters heartbreak

[TELLING QUOTE]
"We flew back to England [a week after Augusta] and have been
chilling out."

[VICTORIES (MAJORS)]
48 (3)

[MONTHS SINCE LAST MAJOR WIN]
22

[TELLTALE STATS]
Driving accuracy (150th, 57.9%); scoring (3rd,
69.43)

[COMMERCIAL HIGHLIGHT]
Posing as math teacher, offers nine-number addition problem
solved by his daughter, Samantha, who answers, "Three under
par."

[SPECIAL FRIEND]
Jos Vanstiphout

[OUTSIDE OPINION]
Davis Love III: "I played with Ernie on Saturday [at Augusta] and
saw a couple of his shots that got away. He will think about
those."

[RIVAL]
Tiger Woods

[SHINNECOCK IN 1995]
Defending Open champ missed cut by one

[NAGGING QUESTION]
Is he following in the footsteps of Greg Norman and Tom Weiskopf
at Augusta?

[BOTTOM LINE]
After all those runners-up to Tiger, now he has to overcome a
bitter Masters loss to Mickelson.

MICKELSON

[WHAT'S NEXT]
Run at the Grand Slam

[TELLING QUOTE]
"How does this go again?" before reprising his Masters leap in
New Orleans.

[VICTORIES (MAJORS)]
24 (1)

[MONTHS SINCE LAST MAJOR WIN]
1

[TELLTALE STATS]
Scoring (1st, 69.01); birdies per round (1st,
4.91)

[COMMERCIAL HIGHLIGHT]
Walks like a goalie and talks like a goalie, but is a sieve
against Wayne Gretzky's kids.

[SPECIAL FRIEND]
Dave Pelz, Rick Smith

[OUTSIDE OPINION]
David Toms: "Sure, the odds of winning a Grand Slam are long, but
the way Phil is playing right now, it's not out of the
question."

[RIVAL]
Tiger Woods

[SHINNECOCK IN 1995]
T4th despite playing 16th hole in six over par

[NAGGING QUESTION]
Is the New Phil for real or is he simply another player riding a
hot streak?

[BOTTOM LINE]
Barring a Tiger revival, Lefty's the man to beat at
Shinnecock.

"Everybody was writing that [Garcia] and Tiger would be rivals,
says Tour veteran Price, "BUT THEY JUMPED THE GUN."

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)