Sergio Garcia Sergio Garcia ends PGA Tour drought with playoff victory in The Players Championship

Most seemed to think that Sergio Garcia was kidding around Sunday when he said the best thing about winning The Players Championship and breaking an o-for-53 drought on the PGA Tour was that he'd get a reprieve from media criticism.

Then, it became obvious that Garcia's statement was no joke.

"You're going to criticize probably the best player in the history of golf, so how are you not going to criticize somebody else who is much smaller than that?" Garcia told reporters after winning a playoff over Paul Goydos to capture the title in golf's unofficial fifth major. "I guess it's part of your job.

"The only thing I can do is try to keep getting better so I make your job harder to be able to criticize me."

Garcia, the first-round leader at the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass following a first-round 66 on Friday, closed with a 1-under-par 71 in windy conditions at Ponde Vedra Beach, Fla. The 28-year-old Spaniard tied Goydos at the end of regulation, finishing at 5-under-par 283 to force the first playoff in 21 years at the event.

The playoff started and ended on the famed par-3 17th island green. Goydos hit his tee shot into the water, while Garcia landed his first shot four feet from the hole and two-putted for par and his first PGA Tour victory since the 2005 Booz Allen Classic.

The leader after 54 holes, Goydos shot 2-over 74 in the final round to wind up in a playoff with Garcia. However, there were 65 balls into the water during the week at No. 17 and two of them belonged to Goydos, including the one on the tournament's 73rd hole that got caught up in a gust of wind and dropped into the water, giving Garcia the advantage.

Goydos said he didn't second-guess his decision to try and hit a hard wedge into the No. 17 green that resulted in a double bogey. Minutes earlier during his regular round, he'd hit the same club and walked away with a par.

"My experience told me, 'It's not time to try to dink a 9-iron,'" Goydos told reporters. "I hit a really good shot there on hole 71 and I hit not quite as good a shot on hole 73."

The victory earned Garcia the largest first-place check on the PGA Tour at $1.71 million. It also marked his seventh PGA Tour win.

That figure ranks as the most among players under the age of 30 and almost certainly makes sure that Garcia remains labeled by the media as one of the most talented players never to have won a major. Putting has seemingly been Garcia's downfall - just as it was when he let the lead slip away in the 2007 British Open.

Garcia has worked hard to improve his putting stroke, recently switching back to an old putter he used earlier in his career. However, his 124 putts in the tournament were still 18 more than Goydos.

"That's the goal is to keep getting better and the only thing this tells me is to keep working hard and to believe in myself and when I do believe in myself, I think there are not a lot of guys out there that can beat me," Garcia said. "So it's just a matter of doing that and knowing the capability that I have within myself and my game."

Garcia said he was pleased with the way he performed in conditions he said were more difficult than last year's British Open. He was one of eight players to break par in the final round that he said rivals golf's four major tournaments.

Only four players managed to finish the tournament with a score below par. It marked the second-fewest number of players to finish in the red in a single year since the tournament moved to TPC Sawgrass in 1982, topped only by 1999 when only two players finished under par.

Jeff Quinney shot 2-under 70 in the final round to finish third at 4-under 284. Briny Baird and Stephen Ames both carded 72 on Sunday, placing fourth and fifth, respectively.

Defending Players champion Phil Mickelson shot a final-round 78 and finished tied for 21st. No defending champion has finished better than tied for fifth in The Players and only 34 previous winners have managed a top-10 finish the following year.

Even without Tiger Woods in action after his recent knee surgery, the 144-man field included 101 players who have combined for 414 PGA Tour victories, including 25 majors.

"I think everybody feels, not only because of the field, but the course and everything around it, it feels like a major," Garcia said. "It tests you like a major, though, unfortunately it's not. Maybe sometime in the future, it might be."

May 12, 2008

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