Garcia’s Almost Charge, Edition No. 1,689
By Stephanie Wei under British Open

Surge cut short

Sergio Garcia kicked off the final round of the Open Championship with four birdies in the first seven holes at Royal St. George’s, making an early charge that was stifled by a double-bogey on the 8th.

His short game looked stellar, even his putting — believe it or not. With the pin on the 5th hole bending like a contortionist, Garcia nearly holed his pitch. It burned the edge and he was left with roughly five feet for birdie. His eagle attempt on the 7th hung on the edge of the lip. He nudged it in for an easy birdie to get to four-under. And then unfortunately, Sergio hit his drive on 8 a little off line into the junk.

“The funniest thing about it is I didn’t play 8 that badly and I made double,” said Garcia speaking to reporters after his round. “But that’s what can happen here. My drive just went a tiny bit too far right and it went down a gully.

“After that I think the positive is that after that we played well again. We hit good shots on the next two holes, we hit good putts. Unfortunately we didn’t make them, but like I said, before the day, if you would have given me two-under par, I would have taken it. Obviously after being four-under through 7, you think about it twice, but I can’t be disappointed.”

It was a shame, really, that one errant tee shot broke his momentum, but he still shot 33 on the front nine.

When I saw Sergio making a charge, I rushed out to the course to catch his back nine (and Rory McIlroy’s). And he played pretty well too, considering the wind was blowing with gusts up to 35 miles per hour.

Garcia stayed steady, carding four consecutive pars after the blemish. He pulled his drive into the fairway bunker on the 13th and took two shots to escape from the hazard. He walked away with a bogey and dropped another shot to 1-under for the round and 3-over for the championship. Garcia was taking his sweet, sweet time before every shot on the back nine. I mean, he deserves a bit of a break because of the blustery conditions, but McIlroy took about half the time.

The wind was really gusting on the par-5 14th — same pattern as yesterday, dead into the wind, left to right– which makes the hole daunting, since there’s out-of-bounds on the right. Garcia knocked a nice approach to about 15 feet. He was getting ready to putt when he backed off because the wind caused his ball to move. He called over the rules official and there was no penalty because Garcia hadn’t addressed the ball. But he missed the birdie putt. Those darn golfing gods! In the walkway from 14 green to 15 tee, Garcia was talking to his caddie about the wind blowing his ball. He gestured that it moved about six inches.

“It was a good finish in very tough conditions,” said Garcia. “Then after not finishing that great the last three days, it was good to do that.”

Garcia ended on a high note, dropping a 20-footer for birdie on 18. He reacted with a double fist-pump and a spirited look in his eyes. I liked what I saw. And despite the disappointing double-bogey, he still fought and finished with a two-under 68, the low score of the day — and darn good in the blustery conditions. Honestly, he was stroking it nicely. He drained a bunch early, but it wasn’t meant to be.

Good news is I don’t believe he missed any short ones a la the usual Sergio. More good news: His Sunday charge fell short again, but it appears like he’s enjoying himself and regained that competitive spirit, which, for some time, had gone missing.

“I love this tournament and I wanted to be in it,” said Garcia who qualified just a few weeks ago after finishing second in Munich. “Even though I was disappointed with not winning the BMW in Munich, there was something that made me smile a little bit, which was that I knew I was going to come here to Royal St. George’s and play The Open, which was always very special.”