Sergio Garcia shows his softer side
MARANA, Ariz. -- Sergio Garcia has been called many things in a mostly successful but unquestionably turbulent career. Compassionate doesn't come to mind.
The Spaniard has been fiery and moody, passionate and disinterested, stellar and sloppy.
He criticized the gods went he lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the 2007 Open Championship. He lost his desire to play after a breakup with a girlfriend a few years ago. He got into a verbal sparring match with Tiger Woods last year at the Players Championship and later came under fire for a racial comment.
On Friday at Dove Mountain, Garcia conceded an 18-foot par putt to Rickie Fowler on the seventh green at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship because he "felt guilty" about something that occurred on the previous hole -- although it was perfectly legal and Garcia did nothing wrong.
Garcia and Fowler walked off the seventh green with pars after a "good-good" scenario that would never happen among friends playing for a $5 Nassau -- let alone a $9 million tournament with the difference between winning and losing worth at least $152,000. Garcia had 7 feet for his par, and there existed the very real possibility that Fowler would miss, Garcia would make his putt and win the hole.
They halved -- which became a big deal when Garcia lost the match on the 18th hole.
Graeme McDowell, who needed an explanation of what occurred later to even comprehend the situation, described it as "bizarre ... but cool."
But it was pretty stunning nonetheless. Fowler was taken aback, having to ask Garcia several times what he meant. He was lining up his putt and couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.
"I'd be stupid to not take the half," he said. "I was outside of him. He had a good look for par. He had the advantage there. Anything could have happened. I was ready to make the putt, put pressure on him."
Fowler didn't have to, and ultimately, that hole could have made a big difference in Garcia winning or losing.
WGC-ACCENTURE MATCH PLAY
• Defending champion: Matt Kuchar
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• Brackets: Collins | Evans | Harig | Maguire | Ray
• Venue: The Golf Club at Dove Mountain; par-72, 7,466 yards
• Location: Marana, Ariz.
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• Payout: 64-man field with winner taking $1.53 million of $9 million purse
• Format: Match play, NCAA tournament-bracket style, single elimination
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But Garcia was bothered by how much time he took to play his second shot at the previous hole. He needed a ruling because bees swarmed around a sprinkler head where his ball had come to rest. The rules allow for a drop, and Garcia summoned an official. The entire episode took a good amount of time, and Garcia felt bad that he was making Fowler wait.
It bugged him enough to give Fowler the putt on the next hole.
"I feel like unfortunately the game lately hasn't been what it should be," Garcia said. "I think that we are gentlemen. That's the key thing in this game of golf."
Wonder if he would have shown Woods the same courtesy had they been in the exact same scenario. The two are far from friendly, and the truth is, Garcia would likely have been accused of slow-playing Woods under those circumstances. Who knows? That happens in golf, too.
Clearly a couple of called-in rules issues in the past year have bugged Garcia. They cast a pall over him, led to a suggestion that he might have been pushing the envelope with the rules. In Abu Dhabi last month, he had to explain to a rules official his actions on a green where video showed him tapping down a spike mark.
But video didn't capture the entire scene -- he had actually repaired a ball mark, which is allowed. One publication questioned whether he had "cheated."
"That's obviously one of them for sure," Garcia said about recent issues in the game. "Something that somebody is accusing me of something I've never done and would never do. They don't even have proof. It's sad. Unfortunate that the world is like that."
He's right, just as it was unfortunate that Woods was subjected to cheating claims last year because of four rules incidents throughout 2013. There's a big difference between cheating and running afoul of the rules, something that happens every day in professional golf.
So perhaps there is a bit of irony here that Garcia is the one coming to the rescue on this issue.
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"The rules infringements and some of the things that have happened in the last 12 months, I do feel like they make our game look fickle at times and make it look a little silly," McDowell said. "The rules are so complex and complicated when a guy is not trying to gain an advantage and gets penalized unfairly for maybe something that perhaps is a little out of his control and maybe not even something that he's aware of."
To be clear, there was no rules issue involved for Garcia on Friday. He correctly was entitled to a drop because of the bees. He was 2 up on Fowler, who had an 8-footer for birdie and was waiting for Garcia's situation to be resolved. Garcia said afterward he wished Fowler had made the putt, to help ease his conscience.
That's why he did something about it on the next hole.
It was a nice -- although quite possibly expensive -- gesture. In the end, a couple of three-putts on the back nine likely had more to do with the defeat, but Garcia left Arizona with some good public relations attached to his name.
"At the end of the day, it's going to make me feel better," Garcia said. "And I hope it does help everybody around the game. That's what I was trying to achieve."
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