Sergio Garcia capped off his wire-to-wire victory in impressive fashion, with a three-under 69, 19-under total at the Dubai Desert Classic. This is Garcia’s first victory on the European Tour since 2014 (but he won last year at the PGA Tour’s Byron Nelson Championship).
Garcia looked unflappable for the majority of the day. Managing to save par on the 8th was a crucial moment for Garcia to keep the momentum in his favor.
“Maybe because I was in pretty good control,” he said. “I was 1-under, fairly easily through the first seven, and not really missing many shots.
“And then I hit that drive, that terrible drive. To be able to save par there was big, mentally because it kept me — you know, like I was talking to Ian walking on the ninth, and even though I hit such a poor drive, that save, that par save, was probably better than if I would have hit a good drive, a really nice iron shot to 12 feet and 2-putted, because it was like a little boost.
“It was a little bit of a wake-up call for me, too, because it was like, sheesh, what’s happening here. I mean, obviously I felt so comfortable throughout that I probably didn’t focus as much as I should have, and I was thinking about the cameras behind, instead of focusing on what I wanted to do and I kind of blocked out and that’s why I hit that shot.”
The closest anyone came to threaten his lead was reigning Open champion Henrik Stenson, who cut it to two shots after birdies on nos. 13 and 14. The 37-year-old Spaniard answered by knocking it to a few feet on the par-3 15th, rolled in the putt for birdie, while Stenson flubbed a chip and was forced to settle with a bogey save.
“I was playing well,” said Garcia, who is expected to soar from no. 15 to no. 9 in the latest world rankings. “But yeah, you know that Henrik can get on those stretches where he birdies three or four holes, and then it becomes quite tight.
“Obviously I think at that time, I was two ahead. It was 18, 16, he hit a good shot on the 15th. He hit it pretty much straight over the flag, just left a little bit, and too much club. When he went over the green, I knew that it was going to be very difficult to get up-and-down from there because I’ve been there in the past and it’s very, very tricky.
“To be able to hit the shot I hit with a 6-iron there was massive to give myself a kick-in birdie, and then obviously he made bogey. So I got back to four up top and then it was just a matter of staying calm, collected the last three holes and you know, good enough to win.”
From there, Garcia just needed to stay upright en route to his 12th European Tour title. He put on a ballstriking clinic, to say the least. He finished first in greens in regulation and second in driving accuracy, not to mention third in driving distance.
Throughout his career, his personal life has reflected his performance on the course. Recently, Garcia was engaged to former Golf Channel reporter Angela Akins.
“I think it always helps,” said Garcia. “I’ve always said it; and I’ve been very open with you guys. I think that when things are going well off the golf course it’s much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there’s no worries. There’s no worries outside and you can concentrate on what you’re doing out there on the course.
“It definitely helps. I’m not going to lie. You know, I’m excited about a lot of the things that are coming, not only my way, but also Angela’s way, and our families and stuff. So you know, we’re very excited about the future coming.”
Of course, with Garcia kicking off 2017 on a positive note, he is undoubtedly the “best player without a major,” so here come the questions — not a moment to spare — on the quest for his first major championship title.
“When I get to Augusta, U.S. Open, the British Open, PGA, I just want to do the best I can,” he said. “Just like I try any other week. So that’s not going to change.
“Some weeks I’m, with all the respect, really good like this week, and some weeks are not quite as good. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not trying. So at the end of the day, I said it, the only thing I can do is give my best out there and if I leave the course feeling like I gave it everything, sometimes you feel a bit more comfortable, you’re a little bit more relaxed and you’re a little bit freer and you play better. And sometimes you’re a little bit tighter. And it doesn’t mean that you’re not trying as hard, but it’s just not that easy. You know, golf is tough. Golf is really tough.
“We try to play as well as we can every single week, and you know, I’m going to keep trying and give myself more shots, more chances at majors and you know, see what happens.”
Best of luck — here at WUP, we’d love to see Garcia finally get that major monkey off his back.
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) February 5, 2017
Stenson finished runner-up. He’s happy, considering he had taken an extensive break from golf over the holidays.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton finished T3. Fellow Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, who played the first round with Tiger Woods, tied for fifth. America’s Peter Uihlein also placed T5.
Ian Poulter, who was paired in the last group with Stenson and Garcia, had a poor showing, posting a four-over 76 to drop 12 spots down the leaderboard to T15.
Henrik Stenson: “Obviously I was chasing all day and I was trying to push, even though I didn’t play my best. With that birdie on 14, I was hoping I was going to be able to make it a bit interesting coming into the last couple of holes. If you’re one or two behind, with 17 and 18, a lot of things can happen. You can eagle and someone else can end up in trouble.
“I was trying hard to push, and yeah, we picked the wrong wind and I hit the wrong shot at the same time. I airmailed the green on 15 and that led to bogey. And Sergio hit a good shot to three feet and then it was pretty much game, set and match.
“I’m happy with the progress I’ve made here over the last couple of weeks. I came into Abu Dhabi with virtually no practice and I didn’t have much time to practice there, either. My game is getting in the right direction, and to be able to contend and only be a few behind, even though you’re not feeling your best, it’s always nice.”
Lasse Jensen: “Well, I didn’t do a lot wrong, really. I played very, very solid and had a strong finish here on the back nine.
“In Abu Dhabi I had a fever, and then last week I was trying to recover. And then everything just clicked this week. It was maybe a bit surprising that I actually played so well this week because I feel like my game was getting where I want it to be but I thought maybe it would take a bit more time to get out of winter and get the rust out of the system.
“This is huge, and obviously it gives me a lot of boost and confidence for the next couple of weeks.”
Tyrrell Hatton: “Obviously it was a decent round. A little bit frustrating at times – it was annoying to leave that putt short on 18. I had three putts today that were straight downhill and felt it was impossible to leave them short and left three of them short.
“But, you know, it’s been a fantastic week. Starting Saturday morning, I was plus one for the tournament, so if you had told me I’d finish tied third, I probably would have been quite surprised. It’s been an incredible eight months for me. I’m really happy with how this season started, and hopefully I can continue the good form.”