Don't overlook Sergio Garcia at Augusta
With the Masters looming, you don't hear Sergio Garcia's name mentioned much in the pre-tournament discussion -- despite being ranked 16th in the world, and with six top-10s in his past 10 worldwide starts, including a victory.
Perhaps it has something to do with that tree-climbing expedition at Bay Hill, where he might have injured himself. Or it could be that Garcia, 33, is now 14 years into his major championship quest, and has failed to produce.
Better yet, it very well might be his own damning comments from a year ago at the Masters, where after a frustrating third round, he told the assembled Spanish media: "I'm not good enough I don't have the thing I need to have. In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."
He shot 71 a day later and tied for 12th place, but didn't back off.
"If I didn't mean it, I couldn't stand here and lie like a lot of the guys," he said. "If I felt like I could win, I would do it. Unfortunately at the moment, unless I get really lucky in one of the weeks, I can't really play much better than I played this week and I'm going to finish 13th or 15th."
Of course, time has tempered that mood, emotion clearly getting the best of Garcia.
"Obviously, it wasn't my best moment," Garcia said recently. "I was frustrated and that course frustrates me a little bit. But it didn't change me. It wasn't like I went to the U.S. Open two months later and didn't think I could win. It wasn't like I was standing on the first tee at the U.S. Open not ready to give it my best effort. I was thinking about putting myself in a good position on the weekend to try and win this thing.
"But there are some things you say where you feel what you feel at that moment and then when you calm down you think that maybe I shouldn't have said that. And I was over the top last year at the Masters. It's how I felt being there at that moment. I don't lie. I don't try and cover up. It's how I felt at that moment last year and I wasn't going to go back and try and take it back or talk it down. Like I have always said, that's who I am, for better or worse. I am fiery and have a lot of passion. I have always been that way. That is what has helped me get to where I am, and it's also hurt me in certain situations."
Garcia has 17 top-10s in major championships, including three second-place finishes. One of those was a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at the 2007 Open Championship. He also finished second to Tiger Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship, at age 19, announcing himself to the world.
"That's the beautiful about being 19 -- when you are 19, or 15, or 12, you don't think," he said. "You just go out there and you don't think and you let it fly and there isn't a worry in the world. You get there and you hit and you try to hit it as close to the pin as you can and you try to make every putt and you try to make every chip.
"And then as the years go by, and you've been hit with disappointments and they start to wear down on you, you start thinking too much. Back then, the world was right in front of me and I felt I could win every time I teed it up. And that's a great feeling. It was a great feeling. I couldn't wait to get to the golf course. And then the Ryder Cup was great. You live for those moments. And then you get older. In an ideal world, you would have the experience of a 20-year veteran with the mindset up a 19-year-old and you just play the game. But that's not easy to do. But wouldn't that be great?"
Garcia has never been a big fan of Augusta National, his frustrations with the course getting the best of him. In 14 appearances, he has two top-10s, his best a tie for fourth in 2004, with last year his best performance in the past eight. He has missed the cut four times.
But Garcia should have something to build on -- assuming he is healthy -- heading to Augusta. Since missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August, he has wins at the PGA Tour's Wyndham Championship as well as the Iskandar Johor Open on the Asian Tour. He has eight top-10 finishes in the 14 tournaments he has played since the PGA, including six top-5s.
But he doesn't seem to be on too many lists of Masters favorites.
"I wish I could tell you how I feel going to Augusta," he said. "That tournament is so tricky, so difficult. It's difficult to say what will happen. If I go there, and I feel good and I trust what I am doing, and I trust my shots, then it could be a good trip. It's a golf course where you need to hit a draw, and I need to feel comfortable with that. If I start doubting that, then my swing starts to go all over the place. Hopefully I will feel good, feel calm and hit my shots. And then get a little lucky here and there, which you need every tournament but more so at the Masters, and see what happens.
"But I will try not to worry too much. I will give it my best effort, and if it works out, good. If not, we'll come back next year and try it again."
Give Jason Dufner a lot of credit for embracing the viral phenomenon last week known as "dufnering." The two-time PGA Tour winner was captured in an unflattering photo at a Dallas school where he was giving his time to the Byron Nelson Championship, a tournament he won last year.
The photo of Dufner -- a slumped pose on the floor with his legs extended -- captures his personality beautifully. It also caught the attention of several of his PGA Tour colleagues, who couldn't wait to send it around the world.
None other than Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter, Brandt Snedeker, Dustin Johnson and Luke Donald quickly jumped in by tweeting photos of themselves "#dufnering" and sending them out to the world. Soon enough, athletes from other sports were doing it, and there was Dufner himself, retweeting the photos.
He was a good sport about it, to be sure.
Among the best photos tweeted was one of two golfers who got into the #dufnering pose at the home of golf, St. Andrews, on the famed Swilcan Bridge.
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1. D.A. Points. After making only two cuts all year, Points parred the last four holes in Houston to win his second PGA Tour event and qualify for the Masters.
2. Billy Horschel. He tied for second in Houston and has now made 20 straight cuts on the PGA Tour.
3. Henrik Stenson. He earned a last-minute invite to the Masters by moving into the top 50 in the world based on his tie for second in Houston.
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1. Geoff Ogilvy. He was 51st in the world on Dec. 31, just missing a Masters invite, and was 50th with one week left before the March 31 deadline, but missed the cut in Houston -- after also missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
2. Marcel Siem. His victory in Morocco on the European Tour on Sunday wasn't good enough to get into the Masters, as he ended up 51st in the rankings.
3. Charles Howell III. The Augusta, Ga., native will miss the Masters for the fourth time in five years, despite a playoff loss earlier this year and several close calls. He ended up 54th in the world at the deadline.
The field for the Masters is now at 93 players, with the possibility one more can be added by virtue of winning this week's Valero Texas Open. If no one is added, it will be the smallest Masters field since 2006, when there were 90 players who started.
Those numbers are significant because Augusta National officials have grown wary in recent years of the field size approaching 100. The officials prefer the low 90s and have an important decision to make regarding the final events that will be part of the 2013-14 schedule.
Previously, since events following the Tour Championship did not award full FedEx Cup points, the Masters did not invite the winners of those tournaments. Starting with this year's Frys.com Open, however, full points will be awarded to the six tournaments played starting in October. The Masters has to decide if those winners get into the 2014 tournament.
For now, the top 50 deadline that expired on Sunday brought in players such as Henrik Stenson, Fredrik Jacobson and Richard Sterne, while barely denying Marcel Siem, Charles Howell III and Geoff Ogilvy.
Each of the 14 events played this year on the PGA Tour has been won by an American, a streak that tops the best previous mark of 13 straight in 1989. ... With Sunday's weather delay in Houston, seven of the 14 tournaments this year have had a suspension. ... Henrik Stenson's tie for second was his best finish on the PGA Tour since winning the 2009 Players Championship. ... Stewart Cink's tie for sixth was his best since a tie for sixth at the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational -- which followed his Open Championship victory. ... Keegan Bradley has posted four straight top-10 finishes. ... In just his fourth start of the year, Steve Stricker was 38th in Houston, his first finish outside of the top five. ... There are 17 players in the Valero Texas Open field who will be competing in the Masters next week. ... This is the fourth year for the Valero tournament at the TPC San Antonio but the third straight year co-designer Sergio Garcia is not playing. ... Among past major winners in the field are Padraig Harrington, Ben Curtis and Charl Schwartzel.
"I'm not going to go down the road of disappointment. I played good. I would love to be in the golf tournament, so would 300-million other golfers. I played well this year and I'm going to watch the tournament on TV. It's just horrible to watch on TV, to be honest." -- Charles Howell III, who moved up to 54th in the world but will miss out on an invitation to the Masters