Which raised the question: Has García, the sport’s dark prince and a golfer still without a place in the major championship kingdom, finally found the resolve and mental resilience to survive on golf’s biggest stages?
After a wind-whipped opening two rounds, the weekend may provide the answer. For his part, García knows he must change. He must not take golf’s eternally unjust, mind-numbing fickleness personally.
He vows to take the good with the bad and let the cruelest bounces roll off his back, or something like that. These things can take time. But Friday, García said all the right things.
“I know that funny things are going to happen out there and you have to accept it and stay as positive as possible,” said García, who had six birdies and three bogeys Friday.
He conceded that this had not usually been his attitude, to put it mildly. Five years ago, after one of several failed chances to win the Masters, García questioned whether he had what it took to win a major — and if he ever would.
Friday, looking back at what he said here in 2012 after a tournament in which he finished tied for 12th, García said: “I probably didn’t accept things as well as I should have. And I’ve shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win not only one, but more than one.
“I think that I’m trying to change a little bit on that aspect, like I said before, on accepting things. I still have to get so much better at it.”
As proof, consider how he handled the scoring mistake. He did not bemoan the error. He said he thought the issue stemmed from one of his playing partners, Shane Lowry, wearing similar clothing. Lowry made a double bogey on the 10th hole.
A spokesman for Augusta National said the mistake was “a clerical error,” a score registered incorrectly at the green.
Said a smiling García: “It was O.K., I knew where I stood.”
Is this a new and improved Sergio?
“I can see why they might have made the mistake,” he said. “But it was fine.”
After the bogey at the 10th hole — and while his score was being wrongly reported — García made a routine par on the 11th hole. When his tee shot on the par-3 12th hole plugged in the bunker in front of the green — a bad break of sorts — he rebounded, nearly holing his next shot for birdie.
García later called it “hands down the best bunker shot I’ve ever hit.”
He bogeyed the 13th hole, but reached the green on the par-5 15th hole in two and made birdie. He appeared to find another gear at that point, striking his approach shot to the 17th green to less than three feet for another birdie. At the 18th green, he had a 7-foot downhill birdie putt for the outright lead, but missed it to the right.
García was not the only one Friday showing a certain mettle in the face of adversity. After 11 holes, Hoffman seemed to be going to pieces. The putting magic he displayed a day earlier while shooting a 65 had abandoned him, and he was four over par.
But Hoffman steadied himself to play one under in his final seven holes to post a three-over-par 75.
“Not a bad score,” said Hoffman, who had five bogeys and two birdies. “I like my position right now because I still have a chance on the weekend.”
Others will not have the same opportunity to make a run at the championship in the final two rounds. Because Hoffman slid back toward the field, the number of players missing the cut was relatively small, but it still included the defending Masters champion Danny Willett, the two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson and Patrick Reed.
On the leaderboard, there were several major championship winners lurking just behind the leading group, with Justin Rose and the 57-year-old Fred Couples at one under. One stroke behind them were Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson. William McGirt was in sole possession of fifth place at two under.
Fowler, who shot a 32 on the front nine and appeared ready to make a charge that would separate him from the field, instead made a serious misstep with a bogey on the 15th hole. But his tee shot on the par-3 16th nestled near the hole and resulted in a critical birdie.
Afterward, Fowler expressed the dominant sentiment of the day for those, like García, still seeking their first major title.
“The wind is supposed to finally die down, and we’ll have great weather on the weekend,” Fowler said. “It should be fun. I’m looking forward to a lot of good golf.”
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