There was ample opportunity during the third round of the Masters Tournament on Saturday for Sergio Garcia to be, well, Sergio Garcia.
But maybe he’s right when he says he has a better perspective on his heretofore unsuccessful quest to win a major championship.
Maybe he’s right when he says he will embrace the moment during Sunday’s third round and continue to “have fun.”
And maybe he’s right when he says his relationship with August National Golf Club, on which his boyhood heroes Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal combined to win four green jackets, has become less toxic.
At this point, there’s no reason not to take the 37-year-old Garcia at his word.
“It was hard but it was fun,” he said after shooting 70 to tie Justin Rose for the 54-hole lead at 6-under-par 210. “It was fun to play well again, to go through a Saturday at the Masters with a chance at winning and to be up there going into tomorrow.”
Garcia had a marvelous ball-striking day, missing only three fairways and three greens, and playing a bogey-free second nine for the second time this week.
More importantly, he turned adversity around. There were several key moments when he executed shots or made putts to keep his round going north, instead of south as it had so often in the past.
Garcia entered the day with a 74.9 scoring average in third rounds at Augusta, the worst among any player in the last 30 years with at least 10 appearances. He had only two under-par rounds on 13 Saturdays and was a cumulative 38-over.
Last year, he shot 81 in the third round, his ninth Saturday with a score of 75 or higher.
“I’m glad to get that scoring average down a little,” he said.
Garcia’s pivotal holes were a stunning 38-foot birdie putt at No. 5, which had three-putt written all over it; a huge break when his second shot into the par-5 13th green was heading for a tributary of Rae’s Creek, only to have the ball hang up on the steep bank (he chipped on and made the birdie putt) and then at No. 18 when an indifferent iron shot left him with a 58-foot putt. He came up 7 feet short on his first putt but rammed home the par attempt to hold onto his share of the lead and his spot in the final twosome with Rose.
Garcia also had an answer for a three-putt bogey at No. 9: he marched to the 10th tee and proceeded to hit all but one fairway on the second nine and all but one of the greens in regulation. His short game had the answer for the only hiccups, with deft chips to set up his birdies at Nos. 13 and 15, and an up-and-down at No. 16.
Garcia said it was simple: his mind was free of his Augusta demons.
“My mentality has changed a little bit, the way I’m taking things, particularly this week at Augusta,” he said. “My relationship (with the course) has definitely improved, there’s no doubt about it. There’s nothing wrong with Augusta. I think the main thing that has improved is the way I’m looking at it the last two or three years. It’s the kind of place where, if you’re trying to fight against it, it’s going to beat you down.”
For at least one weekend day in contention, Garcia didn’t take the bait.