Sergio’s Moment

by Quin Hillyer

I write this at 10 p.m. Central the night before the Masters, having meant all week to post it. The Masters this year has the worst story lines, entering it, of any Masters I can remember. There’s just no galvanizing story, no rivalry, no stars obviously peaking . . . nothing that makes for great drama going in, other than the fact that this is indeed Augusta, and Augusta in April rarely disappoints.

A few thoughts. First, I won’t even link to them, but I have been struck by an amazing spate of columns in recent days that effectively shovel dirt on the imaginary grave of Tiger Woods. For years, the golf press worshiped, at least in print, so obsequiously at the Shrine of Tiger that it was sickening. It was very, very, very, very, very difficult, pre-2009, to find anybody in print with the guts to criticize Woods about anything. Then, when he had his public fall from grace, the piling on began. He is standoffish. He curses. He’s not as gracious as Nicklaus when he loses. Heck, he’s not as gracious when he wins. He ignores the gallery. He tends to bend the rules in his favor. And on and on. All of these things are true. But none of them were frequently mentioned before Woods’s sex scandals came to light. And this week, with his missing the Masters because of injury, the media have been brutal. They compare him with Nicklaus, in terms of character and grace, and, accurately, find him wanting. They quote fellow players seeming to belittle him and to take his absence in stride, as if he’s no longer really a big deal. And the undertone of these columns is almost gleeful, as if the writers are just really enjoying “sticking it” to Woods.

I say enough already. A lot of the criticisms are accurate. I’m no big Tiger fan. But he’s not a monster. By the standards of any sport other than golf, he’s a reasonably good role model apart from his sexual escapades. He tries to comport himself with dignity, even if it doesn’t come naturally to him. He is usually courteous, even if not warm, to other players. He reveres the military, and honors military personnel every chance he gets. He does do good charitable work for children, and seems to really care about it. He gives all he has on the course. He plays hurt, horribly hurt. 

In short, he’s no ogre. And the time to kick him isn’t when he is down, suffering from a bad back and unable to play. He doesn’t deserve to have his misfortune be cause for being treated badly. Even those of us who don’t want to see him win more majors can and should wish that he be afforded more respect and, more important, more decency . . .

Now, on to those who will actually be playing . . . There is a lot of analysis that could be done. I wish there were time to explain why Trevor Immelman might surprise and put up a real challenge. There are encomiums to be written to Jason Day’s skills and reasons to predict him to win if his wrist holds up. There is also lots of good speculation about the chances of Dustin Johnson. But my crystal tarot tea leaves, sending me smoke signals and saying Abracadabra, tell me the real guy to watch is Sergio Garcia. As good as he has been for so long (it’s been 15 years since he finished second to Woods at the PGA), he still ranks up there with Greg Norman and very few others as having underperformed, in overall records, given the potential that his own hard work has given him. At age 34, after 15 years on the big stage, he still has won not a single major title.

But now is the time for him to step up. His game has really come back in the past 16 months or so, with several Euro titles and some close calls in the United States. He finished third last week in Houston, and for once he is putting beautifully, whereas for a long, long time it was his putting that was his Achilles’ heel. And his nemesis Woods, who seems to “get in his head,” is not around to bedevil Garcia. The Masters recently seems to reward people in the 32–34 age range. Garcia is 34. He is “due,” as the saying goes. Here’s saying Sergio Garcia puts on the Green Jacket on Sunday.