PARAMUS, N.J. - The putt drops and Sergio Garcia turns into Terrell Owens on a Red Bull IV drip. He's pointing up to the top of the TV tower, giving European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo love. He's ripping off a string of fist pumps. He's blowing a kiss to who knows who.
Then, he slams his putter into a sand trap and stands over it with his hands on his hips like he's Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant back in the day or something.
Somewhere, it's easy to imagine Usain Bolt sitting back and taking notes for London 2012 celebrations.
All the while, Vijay Singh stands back quietly watching it all with a smile on his face. His caddie walks behind him and quietly says, "You're the best putter in the world." Without hesitation, Singh shoots back, louder and more forceful, "You'd better believe it.'"
Actually, you'd better not believe it. Not if you've watched any major PGA Tour golf over the last decade or so. But the important thing is that Vijay believed it for at least that moment.
And that moment is all it took to make Garcia's premature celebration look sillier than your average 6-year-old's birthday party. Singh rolled a 26-foot birdie putt in on the top of Garcia's no-way 27-foot birdie putt on the 73rd hole of The Barclays, and suddenly, the first FedEx Cup event of the year headed to its second playoff hole.
A little dime-store psychology is all it took to trump Garcia's look-at-me-I'm-a-bad-bad-man preening. The best golf tournaments in the world are becoming more and more about psyching yourself in, not out. Sure, there's always Sergio to show the old way, the guy who, in a tournament's biggest moments, does everything possible to ensure he'll be as scatter brained as Jessica Simpson.
Like hitting one into the pond on the 70th hole of the PGA Championship. Or giving himself almost no chance to be prepared to play the second playoff hole in The Barclays because he spent so much energy celebrating a win he only ever had in his assumptions.
Thank heavens there is no pond anywhere near Ridgewood Country Club's 18th green, because Sergio probably would have jumped in there in giddy joy before Singh ever had a chance to putt to tie him and extend things.
"Well, I think he was surprised to make his, and I was surprised to see it go in," Singh said later, after predictably wrapping up the tournament win on the second playoff hole. "And he was even more surprised to see mine go in."
Garcia wasn't just surprised - he was as shocked as the wife of the former governor of this state (Jim McGreevey) claimed she was when everyone found out her husband was gay.
Sergio played it off - like he always plays off all his heartbreak.
"It wasn't that at all," Garcia insisted on the question of presupposing victory. "I knew Vijay still had a chance. I was just excited that I knew I couldn't lose it on that hole."
And Brett Favre was just happy at the prospect he might be able to backup Aaron Rodgers. Garcia's tee shot on the very next hole told the true tale. The Spaniard duck hooked it so far left and short that you could be excused for thinking that, for one shot, he'd borrowed the game of one of the drunk Jersey guys in the crowd.
The ball came to rest as close to the red out-of-bounds line in the grass as you can get without going over.
It's almost harder to feel sorry for Sergio Garcia in this one than in the PGA Championship. Because this time, Garcia lost the tournament the very next shot after he inexplicably lost his mind on the 18th green. This wound was even more self-inflicted.
Sergio Garcia can stop telling everyone he is only 28 any day now, too. For he's not catching up to the old men of golf like the 36-year-old Padraig Harrington and the 45-year-old Singh. He's falling farther behind. In the mental game.
You can hear it in even Vijay, the old-school, stay-at-the-range-till-your-hands-bleed worker, leaning on the kind of cute little psychology trick he would have laughed at only a few years ago.
Singh's now bettered Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia down the stretch for two wins in the last month alone. Two wins in events that are about as big as they get for non-major golf: Firestone and the FedEx Cup opener. He's done it by going Dr. Phil (the Oprah-made bushy-mustached guru, not the Winged Foot choker).
"I convinced myself that I'm the best putter," Singh said, smiling.
This despite years and years of evidence that screams everything but. Years and years of watching his putting stroke get picked apart and crucified on golf shows. Years and years of getting letters from both well-meaning grandfathers and con artists seeing dollar signs telling him that they have the perfect solution for his trouble on the greens.
Heck, Vijay Singh cannot tell you how many starters at non-tournament courses he's played who claim to have the Zen of putting down.
"I must have had hundreds of letters and phone calls all saying that they can fix my putting," Singh says. "You know, at the end of the day, it kind of gets to your head, and you start thinking you're not a good putter."
Especially when you're really not a good putter.
If golf's shown anything this summer, it's that you can fool yourself, though. First, Harrington talks like he's a Tiger Woods puppet after those back-to-back majors. He keeps saying how he always believed he'd hit those putts coming down the stretch. Now, even Vijay is getting into it, playing mind games on himself.
You can psych yourself in. Or you can do the Sergio.
"It happens," Garcia maintained. "What can you do? You can't take it the wrong way."
Who do you think's out of touch with the PGA Tour's new way? It's sure not the old Fijian.
August 25, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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