PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Memories of last year were lingering in Sergio Garcia’s mind when he stepped to the 17th tee Thursday. He had to eradicate memories of that lost opportunity at the famed island green before attempting his tee shot.
"It did cross my mind; I'm not going to lie to you. I was trying to be positive," he said. "It's a new year. I was able to do much better there and much better on 18, so I was very happy to see that."
Garcia was tied with Tiger Woods for THE PLAYERS Championship lead when he arrived at No. 17 last year. Garcia hit two shots in the water at 17 en route to quadruple-bogey, then hit another into the water at No. 18. He played the final two holes in 6 over par to fall to eighth place.
Garcia, the 2008 PLAYERS champion, opened this year’s event with a 5-under 67 that had him two shots back of leader Russell Henley after the morning wave completed play.
Considering his recent form and record at TPC Sawgrass, it should be no surprise that Garcia is contending once again. He has finished in the top 25 in half his PLAYERS starts, and missed the cut just twice. He’s won twice since December, at the Thailand Golf Championship and Qatar Masters, and has four top-10s in seven PGA TOUR starts this season.
Much of Garcia’s good play has been credited to good feelings off the golf course, including his relationship with girlfriend Katharina Boehm, who caddied for him in his Thailand victory in December. Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano has seen a change in his friend.
“Not long ago he was a bit grumpy on the course and he never seemed to enjoy what he was doing,” said Fernandez-Castano, who shot 67 Thursday. “I remember I had a talk with him in Munich not that long ago, and I said, ‘Sergio, you do not have to do this if you don’t enjoy it.’ … I think now everything has clicked again, and it’s great to see him with a smile and enjoying life again.”
Two years ago, Garcia was quoted at the Masters as saying he didn’t believe he was mentally strong enough to win a major. That opinion has changed with his good play.
“I think when I’m on, I can definitely win anywhere,” Garcia said. He’s given himself a chance to win another title at TPC Sawgrass.