Garcia, Woods play differing roles

August, 27, 2009
08/27/09
8:35
AM ET

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- Yes, the logo here at Liberty National Golf Club is, appropriately enough, the Statue of Liberty, which endures as a visible symbol of freedom on 14 of the course's 18 holes. And sure, the New York skyline hovers above the horizon, just a few crisp 3-iron shots across the Hudson River.

Let's get something straight, though, golf fans: Despite its billing as the PGA Tour's only annual New York-based event, this week's edition of The Barclays is as New Jersey as a pork-roll sandwich and jughandles off the highway.

Don't worry. You're not the only one who failed to get the memo about the Garden (State) party.

"We are delighted to be back here in New York," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said prior to the opening round. "We have a good weather pattern moving in, which is going to sharpen those visuals of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty."

Paul Goydos

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Paul Goydos, who tied for the lead at 6 under with Sergio Garcia and Steve Marino, was asked after his round Thursday whether he liked Liberty National as a golf course. His response? "Versus being a polo field? A soccer field?"

Even the commish needed a mulligan before the boys over at the Bada Bing tried to give him the Jimmy Hoffa treatment. But with the Big Apple lingering as a backdrop to this tournament, it's an easy mistake.

Folks around here live with a constant chip on their shoulders, thanks to their brassy neighbors to the east. Whether it's housing two professional football teams with the names "New York" in the title or the age-old observation that it costs nothing to cross the bridge into this state but you've got to pay to leave, New Jersey natives don't need further reason for Gotham envy.

From Ol' Blue Eyes to The Boss, this is a state that loves its stars. Four years ago, Phil Mickelson won the PGA Championship in Springfield. Last year, Vijay Singh took this tournament in Paramus. Tiger Woods? He's 0-for-NJ, having never earned a title in the land which spawned the Jersey devil.

One day after not-so-cryptically referring to first-time host Liberty National as "interesting," Woods opened with a 1-under-par 70 on Thursday in his first competitive round since failing to claim the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

There were highlights -- he pured his tee shot on the par-3 second hole to 4 feet, 4 inches en route to one of two birdies for the day -- and lowlights. On the next par-3, No. 4, he pushed a shot so poorly that it left him muttering this self-deprecation under his breath: "Tiger, you suck. God dammit. You f------ idiot."

If Woods is New York, omnipotent and compelling in his on-course machinations, then Sergio Garcia epitomizes New Jersey, forever in the shadows and yearning for attention. It is an analogy that even the 29-year-old Spaniard, who won this tournament in 2001 and 2004 when it was contested at Westchester CC, wouldn't dispute.

"They are definitely different in more than one way," he said of the fans in this area. "They are very loud and sometimes a little bit rude, but at the same time they cheer for you like no other. So it's fine to see the mix on it. They are just so passionate up here. It's always good to have the chance of coming back and playing in front of these crowds."

Perhaps it was only fitting that here in Jersey -- sorry, Joizey! -- Garcia finished 5 strokes better than the man he's been chasing for a decade, firing a 6-under 65 that included seven birdies and just a lone blemish on his final hole of the day.

He will enter Round 2 tied atop the leaderboard with Steve Marino and Paul Goydos, the latter of whom is a two-time winner from California equipped with the same sharp sarcasm often found 'round these parts.

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Exhibit A: When asked after his round whether he liked this venue as a golf course, Goydos quipped, "Versus being a polo field? A soccer field?" Exhibit B: When the single dad was queried about staying in touch with his teenaged daughters, he said, "I talk to them once or twice a day, text them. We have gotten so good at technology, it's just crazy. I guess if you have young kids, you can GPS them."

Such a device isn't necessary for the few competitors in this week's field who have chosen to stay in Manhattan and commute to the course via ferry across the Hudson. For these players, New Jersey may be a nice place to visit, but it's not where they choose to stay. And it further establishes the idea that even though the Garden State is this week's host, New York is the more visible attraction.

"This is going to be a spectacular tournament on television. They are going to have a lot of shots of New York, the Statue of Liberty, and it really is going to be a great spectacle and I think it's going to be great for the city of New York and New Jersey," Goydos said. "It's undeniably going to be as gorgeous as hell."

Gorgeous as hell. Not exactly the state motto, but it aptly describes the play of those who are prospering at Liberty National so far.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

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Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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