SERG OF OPTIMISM
Garcia's victory is a positive sign for the 2002 season
The new year arrived with last week's Mercedes Championships, and
not a moment too soon. Out with the old, in with the bold, as
2001's seemingly endless fizzle was finally washed away.
Last year's most hotly anticipated event, the Ryder Cup, was
postponed due to the events of Sept. 11, while the glitzy
American Express Championship was canceled. Robbed of these
finishing flourishes, the final 3 1/2 months of 2001 were
flatter than a flute of day-old champagne. Some of the Mercedes'
themes may have been eerily familiar--Tiger Woods was
lackluster, and Phil Mickelson was lacking altogether--but the
resolution of the new year's first tournament left a bubbly
feeling, thanks to the reappearance of golf's hottest players.
With his stirring sudden-death victory, Sergio Garcia won his
third Tour event since May, a number equaled only by David Toms,
the man Garcia vanquished with a birdie on the first extra hole
at Kapalua's Plantation course on Maui, Hawaii. "You can't dream
of a better way to start the year," Garcia said, speaking for
all of us.
For Garcia, the Mercedes was the latest milestone in his
remarkable maturation. His numbers last year--sixth on the money
list, third in scoring average--tell only part of the tale. With
his buggy-whip swing and endless fidgeting, Garcia will never be
mistaken for one of the game's premier technicians, but he
surely has become golf's greatest showman. If Woods's calling
card is the machinelike blowout, Garcia channels the artistry
and hot-blooded bravado of the toreador. His last four victories
have been thrilling mano a manos, during which he has slain a
quartet of the game's elite: Mickelson at the Colonial (with a
final-round 63), Retief Goosen at the Trophee Lancome (a
comeback from four strokes down with four holes to play), Ernie
Els at the Nedbank Golf Challenge (a sudden-death chip-in), and
Garcia's New Year's resolution was to become the first man to
lead the money list on both the U.S. and European tours, and
this goal suddenly seems like more than the bluster of youth.
Garcia has long relied on a robust long game, and the key blow
in his final-round 64 at Kapalua was a mighty three-wood that
set up a pivotal eagle on the 9th hole (opposite). But Garcia
has developed into a polished all-around player. Amidst
ever-changing gales he masterfully controlled the trajectory of
his irons while playing an artful variety of shots, and he
reaffirmed on Sunday that no one putts better in the clutch.
Garcia's third Tour victory was worth $720,000. "I'm leading the
money list right now," he says.
Garcia turned 22 on Wednesday. By his 22nd birthday Woods had six
Tour victories, including the 1997 Masters. A year ago it was
easy to believe that Woods was twice as good as Garcia, but the
gap is narrowing. Garcia's development could be the story of
2002, a season that's but one week old, yet already full of
by Sal Johnson
Sergio Garcia was the only player in the field to improve his
score every round (73-69-68-64, 18 under), and he won despite a
triple bogey on Thursday, becoming the first Tour winner to
survive a triple since Jeff Sluman at the 2001 B.C. Open....
Garcia was the coleader in putting (112, with Mark Calcavecchia)
and in birdies (24, with Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco)....
Garcia's 64 was the lowest final 18 by a champion in the event's
history.... Tiger Woods, who tied for 10th, seven shots out of
the playoff, cumulatively played the first two holes six over
par and the other 16 in 17 under.... Woods took 15 more putts
than Garcia, three-putting five times and four-putting once....
This marks the sixth straight year Woods has begun his season at
the Mercedes--and his worst finish.
First he takes the advice to lay up, now this: Over the
off-season David Toms presented his caddie, Scott Gneiser, with
the keys to a midnight-blue 2001 Porsche Boxster, a car Toms had
originally purchased for himself. "It was kind of a year-end
bonus," says Toms. "He wanted the car, and I didn't."
Last Friday, 48 hours after one of Michelle McGann's former
caddies had been released from a Palm Beach County, Fla., jail
for allegedly stalking her, the LPGA veteran spoke to SI about
the ordeal: "There are a lot of crazy people out there," said
McGann (right). "This is something that goes along with being in
the public eye, I guess." Patrick Hallett, a 42-year-old
resident of Monterey, Calif., caddied for McGann only once, in
1989, her rookie year. McGann says Hallett began sending her
innocent correspondence in the mid-'90s, but in November the
letters took a darker turn. "All of sudden it was like, 'I love
you, I want to marry you, I can't be without you.' I was
freaking out." Freed on a $1,000 bond on Jan. 2, Hallett was
served with a temporary restraining order compelling him to stay
at least 500 feet from McGann and places that she frequents.
Think Tom Pernice is uptight? A God-fearing former economics
major who lists gardening as a hobby, Pernice, 42, showed up for
a New Year's Eve bash at the Mercedes Championships wearing a
dark coat and tie, while Hawaiian shirts were the standard attire.
David Feherty's first novel, A Nasty Bit of Rough, will be
published in March. In this tall tale Uncle Dickie--protagonist
of many of Feherty's columns in Golf Magazine--wages an epic
struggle to claim golf's oldest trophy, the petrified middle
finger of St. Andrew.
So where was Phil last week? Turns out the AWOL Mr. Mickelson
rang in the New Year with his in-laws in Utah. Then, while his
colleagues were battling the elements in Maui, Mickelson was
tuning up his game amid the computerized sterility of the
Titleist test center in Carlsbad, Calif., a quick drive from his
new manse in Rancho Santa Fe.
COLOR PHOTO: DONALD MIRALLE/GETTY IMAGES
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID WALBERG
What was the biggest story of 2001?
Tiger Slam 57%
Ryder Cup postponed 19%
Annika Sorenstam's 59 15%
Solid-core balls 5%
Woods's purported slump 4%
Senior tour's troubles 1%
--Based on 8,882 responses to our informal survey
Next question: Do you agree with the USGA's proposal to limit
clubheads to 385 cc and shaft lengths to 47 inches?
Vote at golfplus.cnnsi.com.
Phil Mickelson may have looked like a prima donna for skipping
the Mercedes, but he'll turn out to have been a trendsetter. This
faraway event has become golf's version of the All-Star Game--more
of an obligation than a privilege for the game's elite.