Today, Garcia is 32 years old, a decade in the sun and a beard has left few traces of the fresh face that golf fans once fell in love with.
He’s got his hands in his pockets and his eyes on the ground as he walks down the fairway to his ball. He has made birdies today at Augusta’s second and fourth holes. He sits at two under par.
Garcia sticks his approach tight. There are still not many players you would rather watch with an iron in their hands than Garcia. He makes the putt for birdie.
His scorecard tells you he is on a roll, but his body language doesn’t. His hands are quickly back in his pockets and his eyes back on the ground as he walks to the eighth tee alone, 25 feet behind his caddy. A stiff breeze blows through and it feels like a storm could be approaching. Sergio has been through plenty of storms.
“Nice birdie, Sergio,” a man says as he passes.
Garcia perks up a bit and acknowledges the fan with a nod.
McIlroy arrives to the seventh green to an ovation. He is the new darling of the golf world. He is 10 years younger than Garcia and everything that Garcia was a decade ago. With one exception: He has already won the big one. In capturing the U.S. Open last season at Congressional, McIlroy was able to get over the hump early. In fact, he never even saw the hump, he leapt over it.
Garcia nearly leapt over it as well when he was just 19 years old, but lost by one shot to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah. Would his career have been different had he won? Were the demons that showed up in Garcia always there or were they the product of disappointment?
Garcia is walking up the eighth fairway after hitting a 3-wood off the tee at the par-5 eighth when the gallery at No. 7 erupts for McIlroy’s birdie. He doesn’t look back.
As Garcia walks toward his ball, the sun breaks through for the first time of the day. He looks up at the sky. Seconds later he turns back and shouts something to playing partner David Toms, gesturing with his hands and smiling. Garcia’s mood seems able to change as fast as the weather. One moment brooding, the next moment charming. His golf game often comes and goes just as fast.
Right now, the sun is shining, his mood is good and he is looking for his fourth birdie in seven holes.
After laying up with a 3-wood, Sergio hits wedge to 18 feet and rolls in the putt.
Fist-pump. He is four under par heading to the ninth.
Physically, Garcia and McIlroy are quite similar. They are both under six feet tall, both about 160 pounds. McIlroy has more upper-body muscle because, well, that’s what you do when you’re 22 years old. But neither player is going to overpower the golf ball with size. In both cases, it’s a physics-defying swing that generates clubhead speed.
On the ninth hole, Garcia is in trouble. His drive has found the trees and the ninth is playing tough. At day’s end, only leader Fred Couples will have birdied it. Not a great place to blow a drive right.
By the time Garcia arrives, his caddy is already on the scene and looks concerned. The experts in the gallery long ago decided he has no shot and will have to punch out. Garcia takes a quick look, grabs a long iron and hits a low stinger that seems destined to find the opening of the green before landing in the front bunker a yard short.
One yard from perfect. The story of his life.
Garcia went on to make bogey at the ninth to shoot 33 on the front.
By day’s end, he had carded a 68 to sit at four under par for the championship, one shot back of Couples and Jason Dufner and tied with McIlroy.
Garcia will get a closer look at golf’s next big thing on Saturday when the two are paired together in the third round.
When McIlroy was asked to characterize the leaderboard he went through the names. He spoke of Dufner and Couples and Oosthuizen and Westwood, then added: “And Sergio, who could have won many majors.”
Is that going to be the legacy of Sergio Garcia?
Could have won many majors.
We asked him.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to win,” he said. “I’ll see. We’ll see.”
In fact, this weekend at Augusta National everyone will see.
“I wish I could tell you I’m ready to win, but I really don’t know.”