Garcia sees upturn after long-awaited victory

Garcia sees upturn after long-awaited victory

JACKSON (Mississippi) • All week the focus was on his eyes.

Every time Sergio Garcia stroked a putt, the cameras showed a battle-scarred 40-year-old who had missed so many over his career he had seen enough. Perhaps, he reasoned, the seeing itself was the problem. He let his lids fall, trusted the stroke, and when the last putt fell at the Sanderson Farms Championship, a kick-in birdie on the par-four 18th to beat Peter Malnati (63) by one, those eyes filled with tears.

It was his first victory on Tour since the 2017 Masters, and the first since he became a father, first to two-year-old Azalea and then to six-month-old Enzo.

More than his putting woes, or his title drought, he thought of family.

He especially thought of the two uncles he lost to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“My father has a lot of family in Madrid,” Garcia said after a five-under 67 brought him to a 19-under total of 269. “He’s one of nine siblings, and unfortunately, we lost two of his brothers because of Covid, one at the beginning, Uncle Paco, and one just last Saturday… Uncle Angel. You know, it’s sad.

“And I know that a lot of families have lost a lot more people, but you never want to lose anyone like that, and I wanted to win this for them.”

An 11th Tour title did not look on the cards. He missed three of his previous four cuts on Tour, had fallen out of the world top 50, and was coming off a season in which he recorded just one top-25 finish.

He had never recorded fewer than four top-25s in 21 previous Tour seasons, and missed the play-offs for just the second time in the FedExCup era.

Two shots stood out on Sunday: His five-wood second shot that trundled up to within four feet of the par-five 14th hole for eagle, and his eight-iron approach on the 18th, which set up a 30-inch birdie.

The ball-striking that has defined his career took centre stage at the Country Club of Jackson, as Garcia was first in Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, and driving distance.

Although he was only 28th in Strokes Gained: Putting, he was in positive numbers all four days.

His unusual putting, which he said he has been doing on and off for over three years, finally paid off.

“I was believing in myself the whole week,” said the Spaniard, up to fourth in the FedExCup just three events into the new season.

His experience tuning out the doubters served him well and with another Masters only a month away, he may be coming into form.

“Well, it’s obviously a boost of confidence,” he said. “To be able to do a lot of the things that I did… it showed me a lot of what I still have, and what I still can do.”