Sergio Garcia is facing up to more questions over his poor putting after being edged out for victory at Players Championship last week.
It was late on Sunday evening at the Players when Garcia stood over two crucial putts that would have a huge say on the final outcome of the biggest golf tournament outside of the Majors.
His approach into the 16th green had left him on the fringe some 60 feet away from the hole, and with his ball having to travel over a fast putting surface with the most subtle of undulations, it was, as they say, three-putt territory.
Yet he rolled his ball brilliantly up to two feet, and followed that by sinking a 35-footer on the 17th green for a birdie which earned him a place in the three-man play-off.
Considering the high-quality of his long game over four days at Sawgrass, a course strewn with dangerous hazards at almost every turn, by producing two such brilliant putts, the Spaniard looked like a man at the very top of his game in every department.
However, nothing could be further from the truth. For some of the comments Garcia made to the media after his four rounds in Jacksonville revealed that over the last few months, and for the second time in his career, his mind has been all over the place when standing over the ball.
Around five years ago, the anguish was out in the open when the sight of Garcia standing on the fairway at a tournament anywhere in the world was not a pretty one. For what seemed like an eternity, he would stand over his ball and could be seen in close up on TV repeatedly gripping and regripping his club before finally playing his shot.
It earned Garcia a new nickname: ‘The Waggle’, and as Ernie Els’ late but great Belgian golf psychologist Jos Vanstiphout commented at the time: “My heart went out to Sergio. God knows what was going through his mind at the time, but to me the guy looked a total mental car crash out on the course.”
Fortunately for Garcia those days of destructive mind games from tee to green are now just a fading part of his career history, but those old gremlins in his 35-year-old head have now been replaced by an even more worrying new breed.
When asked at Sawgrass about the state of his game, one response summed up his turmoil when he said: “I’m very confident with my game, with my long game; even my chipping has been quite good for most of the year. Unfortunately, my putting has just been up and down. Some great rounds and then some rounds where, I don’t know… I can’t even see the hole.”
The statistics from his performances on the greens at The Players were strong evidence of his problem. In four rounds he missed 15 putts from inside ten feet, a vital distance from which holed putts can make birdies or vital par saves.
Had he holed just half of those he would have added a second Players title to the one he picked up so handsomely in 2008. As he admitted after his second round 69: “I hit a lot of good shots, but unfortunately, when you miss seven putts inside seven feet, it’s difficult to shoot anything lower than 72 on this golf course.
When asked to expand on his putting issues, Garcia revealed that at the start of the week he had travelled to Sawgrass with three different models of putter, but by day two he had only one of them with him on the course.
“One is in the house,” he said. “And one is in the garbage.”
However, it is not just which putter to use that will be going through his mind at El Prat this weekend, but in a throwback to the ‘Waggle’, also how he should grip it. As he admitted: “I am obviously struggling a lot with my putter this year. Grip it? I either use both the conventional and claw grips, or I don’t know what to do.”