Sergio Garcia gift-wrapped a headline for snarky websites such as Deadspin and The Big Lead: “Garcia gives reporter the finger.”
OK, a little context. It came after the writer asked about his infected fingernail. Which digit?
“This one,” Garcia replied, extending the middle finger of his left hand.
The room cracked up. Garcia grinned.
“I walked right into that one,” the reporter said.
Garcia had a flippin’ great round Friday, firing a 4-under 68 to surge into a tie for third in the Masters. He shared the lead just long enough for fans to wonder: “Sergio? Really?”
Then he pulled his approach from the 18th fairway into the gallery.
“I had a little bit of a mud ball,” he said.
Uh-oh. Was Garcia going to blame the golf gods again, like he did after he blew a three-shot lead in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie? Was he going to whine about Augusta Na- tional like he did in 2009? (“I don’t think it’s fair. You still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway.”) Not really. “It was a bad swing,” Garcia added.
One thing that never will change about the Spaniard is his bluntness. When we like what he says, it’s refreshing. When we don’t, it’s whining.
One refreshing part of his media session Friday came after he was asked what kind of temperament is needed to play championship golf.
“I’ll tell you when I find it,” he replied. “That’s the million-dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesn’t exist. The guy up top probably has it, but anybody else, I don’t think so.”
Another came when he declined to be Mr. Positive after being asked: “What makes you ready to win?”
“I wish I could tell you I’m ready to win,” he replied, “but I really don’t know.”
The mental gurus would have a field day with this man.
For a while, ‘El Nino’ was considered the best player without a major victory. That talk started a few years after the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, where a 19-year-old Garcia executed the famous eyes-wide-shut shot off a tree root right of the 16th fairway.
The tree no longer exists. And Garcia, 32, still hasn’t won a major.
But there’s hope. He no longer putts as if his eyes are closed. His 52 putts over two rounds is second-lowest in the field to Phil Mickelson’s 51.
Despite having the infected finger that Garcia said “bleeds every day I play,” he made six birdies Friday on a course where he hasn’t registered a top-30 finish since 2004.
He hit a perfect tee shot to a tucked pin on par-3 fourth hole, hammered a 3-wood to 18 feet on the par-5 eighth and got up-and-down for birdie on par-5 15th with a superb bunker shot.
“He’s in a very good place,” longtime agent Clarke Jones said. “He’s happy. He has a great girlfriend.”
The relationship with Nicole Horrex has helped Garcia rebound from his breakup with Morgan-leigh Norman, Greg’s daughter.
“When he’s happiest off the course,” Jones said, “it translates to great play on the course.”