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Sergio Garcia shows welcome return to form

Sergio Garcia was standing in the 18th fairway, 235 yards from the green, when he decided it was time to trust the swing changes he's making that have dropped him off the golf map this year.

If Tiger Woods is currently in search of his champagne form, a notion furthered by a ho-hum week here at Westchester, Sergio has spent the year wandering in the desert, desperate for a sip of water.

But suddenly it appears the swing changes are beginning to pay dividends, and here was a chance to find out how much.

Sergio was tied for the lead, 11-under par, but because he was playing several holes ahead of the other contenders, he believed he needed an eagle on the par-5 18th to win.

Rather than aim for the middle of the green and take his chances with a lengthy eagle putt to a pin on the back-left part of the green, Garcia took dead aim.

The danger was obvious. With thick rough to the left of the green, Sergio had little margin for error in case he hooked the ball - the tendency under pressure that persuaded him to reconstruct his swing, despite his status as one of the game's superstars.

But Sergio has never been shy about his intention to be the best in the world, better than Tiger. So while he was the only player to finish in the Top 10 in all four majors last year, some bad swings on Sundays in those majors pushed him to make the changes.

Even if it took some time, he decided it was the only way he'd ever become No. 1. Better than Tiger.

"That's why I did it," he said Sunday. "Now when I get into contention I don't have the same worries I had about hooking the ball."

Here was a good test. With victory in reach, he swung boldly, and the shot went ever-so-slightly left, some 10 feet left of the green, 20 feet left of the hole.

Far enough left to find the thick stuff.

Garcia called it a draw - as in, he basically hit the shot he wanted.

"I just drew it too much," he said.

A more objective observer might call it a hook - as in, Sergio hasn't worked the kinks out just yet.

In any case, the draw-hook cost him his chance to win, as Garcia wound up with what he called a "horrible lie," and eventually took a bogey on the hole.

He was right to go for it, because as it turned out, he needed an eagle just to get into a playoff with eventual winner Jonathan Kaye. He just didn't pull off the shot.

Nevertheless, Sergio was understandably encouraged that the worst may be over. Before this week his best finish on the PGA Tour was a tie for 28th at the Masters, and judging by his statistics, it's no wonder.

He ranks 171st on Tour in driving accuracy, which is clearly a result of the swing changes. That he also ranks 152nd in putting may or may not be related, at least psychologically, but in any case, it has been humbling for someone who has been considered a star practically from the moment he showed up with his game and his brash, animated presence that provided such a contrast to Tiger.

Indeed, ever since Sergio chased Tiger as a 19-year-old phenom at the PGA in 1999, the golf world has been waiting for him to become the archrival Tiger has never had.

Then, suddenly, Garcia was nowhere to be seen. Slumps are all relative, but Tiger does have three wins this year and his undisputed ranking as No. 1 in the world.

For the moment, Sergio has only his faith that he's doing the right thing.

It hasn't been easy on his ego. In fact, after his round Sergio was pouting a bit, miffed that reporters have ignored him as he has slipped out of sight.

"I've been working pretty hard," he said. "You guys probably don't notice because you haven't heard too much about the normal guys. You're probably focusing on the guys that are playing maybe a little better. That's the way it is, I guess."

"We're here," someone said.

"That's because I'm playing well."

Sergio laughed, trying to keep the moment light, but he clearly craves the spotlight as much as golf needs the charisma and star power he brings, especially at times like these when Tiger isn't winning tournaments.

A fourth-place finish here should convince him he's on the right track, but perhaps his real inspiration is Tiger himself. It's hard to remember anymore, but Tiger went through a similar struggle when he too changed his swing to become more consistent, and went nearly a year without a win, from March of 1998 to February of 1999.

"I went through the exact same type of spell (as Sergio) before it kicked in," Tiger said Sunday.

Nothing against Jonathan Kaye, whoever he is, but let's hope the kicking in has begun for Sergio.

 

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