By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- For Sergio Garcia, it was a question of semantics.
He wouldn't go so far as to say he lost THE PLAYERS Championship with that little "Tin Cup" moment at the 17th hole on Sunday.
"But I definitely stopped winning it there," the Spaniard said with a shrug of his shoulder.
Potatoes. Po-tat-oes. Tomatoes. To-ma-toes. The fact is, Garcia was tied for the lead with Tiger Woods when he put two shots in the water at the 17th hole. When he left the island green after writing a quadruple-bogey 7 on his scorecard, Garcia had no shot to win THE PLAYERS for the second time.
The first wedge found the water about a foot shy of the bulkheads surrounding the iconic island green. Garcia followed the flight of the ball, first eagerly, then anxiously, before dropping his head, staring at the ground when the ball got wet.
"I thought he hit a great shot," said David Lingmerth, who played with Garcia in the final group. "It looked so pure coming off the face and I thought it was going to be good. Then I saw the wind hit it and it went in the water, and my heart just dropped because he had been playing so good. I felt bad for him."
So like Roy McAvoy in the movie "Tin Cup," Garcia took his drop and hit again from the 17th tee. He later said he didn't want to go to the drop area because the angle to the traditional Sunday pin tucked on the back right of the green simply wasn't as good.
But the result was the same. Not until the 33-year-old hit a third wedge -- for his fifth shot -- did the ball find dry land. Two putts later he walked off the same green where he'd won the 2008 PLAYERS in a playoff duel with Paul Goydos with no chance to force another one with Woods.
"I just under hit it a little bit," Garcia said. "I felt with a little bit of adrenaline and stuff I didn't want to shoot over the green with a wedge. Just needed to hit it a little bit harder, maybe a little too confident. ... If I would have hit it a bit farther left it would have been fine.
"That hole has been good to me for the most part. Today it wasn't. That's the way it is. That's the kind of hole it is. You've got to love it for what it is."
Garcia, who also hit his drive at the 18th hole into the water, was remarkably composed after the round. Garcia wisely didn't even mention the fans who heckled him to the point that Lingmerth said he even felt a "little weird" when confronted by their bad behavior.
"It was just sad to see because we had a good day out there and I felt bad for him," Lingmerth said.
Far better, anyway, to remember the colorful teenagers who stood by the 16th tee -- each sporting a letter of Garcia's first name on their T-shirts. And to finally take the high road when reporters asked about the tiff with Woods on Saturday, and the squandered chance to go head-to-head with him in sudden death on Sunday.
During the third-round rain delay, Garcia had told a Golf Channel reporter that he felt Woods intentionally pulled a club while Garcia was preparing to hit in the second fairway. The ensuing cheers of the fans distracted Garcia, who said Sunday night he was the "victim" not the "bad guy," and his approach on the par 5 strayed well right of the green.
So surely, reporters wondered, given the circumstances, Garcia had really wanted to beat Woods on Sunday. He didn't take the bait.
"Like I always said, you want to win every tournament you play in," Garcia said. "Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. And you want to beat everybody in that field, and if he's in that field obviously you want to beat him. It's always nice to have a chance at beating the No. 1 player in the world, but unfortunately for me I wasn't able to this week."
Besides, it was one hole. Yes, he as distracted. And yes, he moved on.
By the time the two returned to TPC Sawgrass and completed their third rounds early Sunday morning, Garcia and Woods both had birdied the 16th and the Spaniard made another at the signature 17th to pull even with Lingmerth at the top of the leaderboard through 54 holes. A sun-kissed afternoon at the Stadium Course awaited.
Woods took control when he made the turn in 2 under but gave everyone new life with a water-logged double bogey at the 14th hole. By then, Garcia felt he had started hitting the ball the way he wanted. He said he was as calm as he had been on Friday, when he shot 65, and everything seemed to be falling into place.
And it was. Garcia got up and down for birdie at the 11th, added a 10-footer for another at the 13th and fired a brilliant 6-iron to the par-5 16th green where he two-putted from 40 feet to tie Woods, who was playing one group ahead.
But then Garcia got to the 17th hole.
"It doesn't bug me now," he said with another shrug. "It happens. Like I said before, I've been fortunate on that hole. I've won my PLAYERS Championship on that hole, and today I'm not going to say I lost it because ... obviously Tiger was 13 under and I still needed to make par there and par on 18 which is not easy with this wind from the left.
"But I definitely stopped winning it there."