Sergio Just Wants to Have Fun
By Stephanie Wei under European PGA Tour

Has anyone else missed Sergio Garcia? Because I sure have. Two years ago, I would never believe I just wrote that, but my opinion of him vastly started to change after first watching him at the 2009 US Open at Bethpage where I saw him joking and laughing with intoxicated New York fans (a completely different scene than at the 2000 US Open). I realized part of the reason he gets a bad rap is because he’s passionate and speaks his mind, which I prefer over falling asleep while talking to the growing number of monotonous robots on Tour.

Sergio last played in America nearly seven months ago in the PGA Championship. Before teeing it up, he announced he was taking a two-month break from the game due to feeling burnt out. As you may recall, he sure looked frustrated last August, taking out his anger with an epic tantrum in one of the thousands of bunkers at Whistling Straits.

The 31-year-old Spaniard is playing in his first regular PGA Tour event since the Greenbrier Classic. Ranked No. 85 in the world, he wasn’t eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, the Match Play and Doral, so he turned up this week in Palm Harbor, Florida, for the Transitions Championship.

Speaking to reporters after his pro-am at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course on Wednesday, Sergio insisted he’s excited to play again and feels good about his game. When asked where he’d been, he laughed, saying, “Europe…I’ve been playing. You obviously haven’t been watching.”

Sergio feels that his self-imposed sabbatical has been blown out of proportion.

“The break was a long time ago,” he said. “It was in August, it was a couple of months. It was just a couple of months. Everybody seems to make it a big deal. It was a small break, but it was good. I got to do a lot of things. I got to work on a lot of other things. It’s been good.”

While Sergio insists he’s enthusiastic about the game now, he almost seemed beleaguered.

“It’s definitely better,” said Sergio, who played twice in the Middle East this year on the European Tour. “My game has definitely improved a lot. So I definitely feel like I want to be out there, so that always helps. I can do better, but at least if you’re looking forward to it, it helps.

“I think I saw a lot of good things in the Middle East, a lot of good rounds, some good improvements overall in the whole game, so it feels good. It’s just a matter of getting back into it and getting through the motions, those times where it’s a little bit tougher and where the pressure is on. Other than that, it feels nice.”

Not everyone was convinced. It’s hard to ride out a slump in anything, especially for someone who won seven PGA Tour events before the age of 30 and 19 tournaments worldwide.

“When you know what you are capable of doing and you are not able to do it, it definitely feels like, why should I be suffering in a way, if you might say,” admitted Sergio. “When you struggle a little bit and you start asking yourself things, it’s not like it would have been any first or second year, but we’ve been here for a while. When you’ve been pretty much been in the top-ten in the world rankings, it’s a little bit tougher to swallow.”

Sergio almost seemed apathetic when asked how much he wanted to be in the mix given the recent success of other fellow Europeans — like Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy.

“To tell you the truth, I just want to be out there and I just want to be out there and just want to enjoy playing,” said Sergio. “Hopefully I just play better as I get on. Whatever happens, happens. I know what I’m capable of doing. But that doesn’t mean that, you know I’m looking at it, thinking, I should be there. I don’t see it that way. They are out there because they have played well and they deserve it and the only way I’m going to get back up there is doing the same thing.”

Good news is he’s looking forward to hitting shots and playing well. So he says. He seems to have a fresh perspective on the game, but whether or not Garcia has the same fire, passion and swagger as he did when he burst out on the scene as a teenager or even 20-something remains to be seen.

Some have compared 17-year-old Matteo Manassero with Garcia. The two, who are good friends and played a practice round together on Tuesday, are paired in the first two rounds, along with Zach Johnson.

“I’ve always been a fan of (Sergio),” said the bright-eyed, sprightly Manassero. “He’s a great guy and he’s a fantastic golf player. And he’s had a bad moment, but definitely you can see he’s coming out of it.”

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)