IRVING, Texas – Some tournaments he’s given away. Others have been stolen from him. Perhaps you recall what Rickie Fowler did last year at THE PLAYERS Championship. Or Kevin Streelman’s record-setting seven straight birdies to finish off the Travelers Championship.
Sergio Garcia was on the wrong end of both of those occasions, victimized by a spectacular performance from a competitor. Each time, he settled for a share of second that hardly seemed satisfying.
Earlier this season he finished second again, one stroke behind Adam Scott at The Honda Classic. It was the 15th time in his PGA TOUR career that he’s been the runner-up, and the 28th time in all his starts around the world.
He seemed destined for another second Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship … until fate finally decided to break his way in the form of two Brooks Koepka bogeys on the back nine, and an errant tee shot by Koepka that found the water on the first playoff hole. That allowed Garcia to claim his second title at TPC Four Seasons while ending his four-year drought on TOUR.
“You have to get lucky to win tournaments,” Garcia said. “Playing well usually is not enough …
“It’s nice to be on the other side of the coin.”
The win was Garcia’s ninth on TOUR, tying him with his hero Seve Ballesteros for most by a Spanish-born player. It comes 12 years after his first Byron Nelson win, when he celebrated with the great man himself. On Sunday, he celebrated with Nelson’s widow Peggy, who told Garcia her late husband was looking down on the proceedings “with a big smile and very happy.”
Sergio Garcia wins in sudden-death playoff at AT&T Byron Nelson
That drew Garcia to tears.
Seventeen years ago, Garcia made his first professional start in America in this event. He was 19 years old and took the tournament by storm, finishing tied for third.
That was the first of 11 career thirds on TOUR, and 18 overall. Combine that with his runner-up finishes, and Garcia has knocked on a lot of doors in his career. He may not have won as many times as some expected, but maybe we should appreciate all the times he has put himself in a position to win – Sunday being the latest example.
“Sometimes the win doesn’t come and you feel a little frustrated when you finish,” Garcia said, “but putting yourself in a winning situation over and over is very important. … We all know how much effort it is to win out here and in the past 15, 20 years, the level has become so much greater.
“It’s not easy at all.”
Garcia put himself in position despite finding the water on two different holes. The first was at the par-4 11th, but a brilliant third shot helped save par. The other was on the 14th when his approach found the water. He managed to get up-and-down from a tricky lie to salvage a bogey.
That turned out to be a key moment.
Garcia walked off the 14th hole three shots behind Koepka, who had maintained the lead all day while playing partner Jordan Spieth faded away, much to the disappointment of his hometown fans. But Koepka bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15, then failed to match Garcia’s birdie at the par-5 16th. Suddenly, the two were tied.
With the pressure on, Garcia was solid down the stretch. Then in the playoff, Koepka found the water while Garcia blasted his tee ball down the middle. A solid approach and a few minutes later, Garcia was hugging Mrs. Nelson.
Sergio Garcia interview after winning AT&T Byron Nelson
Until this week, the two had not seen each other in a while. Despite his success on this course, Garcia had not played here the past four years, having to manage his schedule and fulfill obligations on the European Tour. He said it was difficult to leave the Byron Nelson off his schedule but that “I can only play so many weeks.”
Presumably, he’ll return next year to defend his title if his schedule allows. No doubt he’ll give Mrs. Nelson another hug when he sees her again.
“It’s been a very emotional week,” Garcia said. “Obviously Peggy finished it off by making me cry, which I didn’t think I was going to do.
“But it was nice to have that problem.”
SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Sergio Garcia sticks a delicate chip for the Shot of the Day
QUOTE OF THE DAYYou can kind of say I went a little bit à la Seve today.
2. KOEPKA’S ‘C’ GAME. Brooks Koepka was trying to win for the second time on TOUR, but he wasn’t playing at his A level. Or even B level. It was mostly C, although his back nine Sunday was not even that high on the scale, as he gave away a three-shot lead.
In retrospect, it seems amazing that Koepka could even be in contention given his swing issues on the weekend.
“I had no idea where the wedges were going,” Koepka said. “We’re pulling and pushing wedges 40 yards. I was backing out of it. I never felt like I really had a chance to go at a flag …
“I had no idea where the ball was going, to be honest.”
With none of his closest competitors making huge moves, Koepka was able to stay on top of the leaderboard throughout the day, delivering a couple of birdies in the middle of his round. But after making the turn, his swing caught up with him.
He missed 6 of 7 fairways and had a stretch of five missed greens on the back. It finally came crashing down in the playoff when his tee shot found the water down the left side.
“Kind of hit it a little bit off the toe and drew back into the water,” Koepka said. “Against the wind, I was kind of hoping it would hit the rocks. But it is what it is.”
And what it was for Koepka was a learning experience.
“You can’t win a golf tournament when you’re swinging it and have no idea where it’s going,” Koepka said. “… It is disappointing but I’ve just got to figure out what’s going on with the swing.”
CALL OF THE DAY
Sergio Garcia wins the AT&T Byron Nelson.
3. THE PLAYERS BOUNCE. Last week, Matt Kuchar and Colt Knost were part of a four-way tie for third at THE PLAYERS Championship. They each left TPC Sawgrass feeling good about their games.
It showed this week. Kuchar shot a final-round 69 to finish solo third while Knost closed with a 65 to share fourth.
“Last year was certainly an off-year, frustrating year,” Kuchar said. “I feel like now I’m playing the golf that I remember playing – quality shot after quality shot and not many mistakes. Chances to win golf tournaments.
“Golf is a lot more fun when you’re playing well, that’s for sure.”
As for Knost, who grew up in Texas and went to school at SMU, this week’s performance was a special one. And now he’ll go to a Colonial course for the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational with more confidence than he’s had in years.
“THE PLAYERS was such a big event, being able to hold up like I did on Sunday,” said Knost, who shot 69 in the final round. “My game, it’s great right now. If I can cut out a few little mistakes here and there, I know I’ll have a chance to win.”
BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA
Sergio Garcia has now tied Seve Ballesteros for most wins by a Spanish-born player.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 22, 2016
He's your winner in Dallas. 🏆 https://t.co/steVDWr7wY
First win on TOUR since 2012?— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 22, 2016
That's worth a smile. 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/E4U0Jz7IFr