Sergio Garcia entered the Players Championship final round, in which he was paired with Tiger Woods, with a horrific track record against the world’s best player.
Forget Woods’ 14 career majors and 78 tour victories compared to Garcia’s zero and 24. When paired with Woods, Garcia can count just a handful of times he’s finished better than his foe, and he’s never beaten him outright (Devil Ball Golf gives the complete history of Woods’ dominance).
Garcia completed the narrative during his Sunday round against Woods, when he had the chance to close in for the kill after Woods faltered. Garcia instead plunked his ball (twice!) in the most humiliating way on the 17th hole as Woods took the tournament.
Garcia, who had come into the final rounds of the tournament biting at Woods’ heels, was a whipped dog. But rather than taking his lumps like the inferior player — and career-long underachiever — that he is, he instead decided to keep barking.
Garcia can now say he’s joined rare company, but it’s not the rare company anyone should want to join — or can ever leave, for that matter (ask Fuzzy Zoeller, who is getting a lot of Internet attention suddenly). After snipping with Woods for days, first calling out Woods’ “niceness” factor, then accusing him of a lack of sportsmanship and then continuing to emphasize how little he liked the man at all, Garcia made the misstep that turns this from a spat into the stupidest of choices. Garcia has, of course, played the race card.
“We will have him round every night,” Garcia said of Woods, talking about the upcoming U.S. Open. “We will serve fried chicken.”
Garcia apologized soon after, realizing he made a misstep, but the move was a formality, like signing a scorecard or returning his cart. It was something he knew he had to do.
But it can’t be denied that Garcia knew exactly what he was doing when he whipped out the most obvious, debasing insult he could find to elevate a war of words he was having trouble winning. Left with few credible talking points and fewer possible punches, Garcia went for the only blow he had left against a player who has had his number — and the stage from which he could be as nice or not nice as he wanted — all along.
What’s ironic about Garcia taking on Woods is that this is a battle that Garcia could never win. No, Tiger Woods is not nice. But neither is Garcia. What was he hoping to do by ripping on the fact that Woods doesn’t sit around and give high-fives in the clubhouse — make people like himself more? And what was he hoping to do by insulting Woods and drawing attention to their pairing on a day when he himself was primed to choke again? Did he think he could make Woods wilt under pressure?
When Woods dominated golf in the years before his knee injury and the whole fire hydrant thing, much of his game was his ability. But another, huge portion was the mental edge he held over competitors on the course — his personal confidence and also the doubt he put in his peers. That doubt has been hard to remember, with most golfers now approaching Woods as just another player, and all of the embarrassing stories about his on- and off-course behavior diminishing his formerly ironclad shell.
But a few golfers still appear to be rattled by Woods, whether he’s the infallible Woods he once was or the resurgent Woods he now appears to be. For this crowd, Garcia is the poster boy — constantly tormented by Woods’ talent, and constantly unable to do anything but hurl insults from miles away, when his game can’t even take a bite from the world’s best.
Woods has had his struggles in recent years, but what he hasn’t had trouble doing is show how laughable it is to challenge him in areas where he’s clearly a cut above. Garcia challenged Woods on the course, and Woods shut him down. Now Garcia has challenged him in an arena where he’s even more unquestioned. Race is so far from anyone’s mind when it comes to Woods that this isn’t even a low blow by Garcia — it seems more like something someone would do to get himself shouted out of the public arena for good. It’s hard to encapsulate just how off-base Garcia is, but most of the world will likely take a try in the coming days.
If Garcia was hoping to unite people behind Woods, he’s done it. Woods elevated his game to bat off Garcia, and now he has a chance to be lifted back to the position he previously held in the sports world — a spot where his ability and track record is so lofty that bringing up something like race is so out of touch that it’s baffling to even hear. Woods may have taken his lumps in years past, but Garcia has now opened the door for him to assume the mantle he was missing for so long — the place where Woods is so good and so respected that criticism only draws eye-rolling, and those who question him or try to tear him down have to resort to ridiculous depths because they don’t have much to say.
Woods has his flaws as a golfer and as a human being, but those aren’t going to be remembered as long as Garcia is drawing attention to the part of Woods where he can show the greatness he still has.
Garcia, meanwhile, has just polished off the nut graph to the obituary of a sterling career that never was.
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