BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - It is pretty much accepted as gospel that Sergio Garcia is as proficient at striking a golf ball as anybody out there not named after an animal.
And it is absolutely accepted as gospel that he can't putt a lick. Can't read 'em, can't judge speed, can't make one to save his life.
So, during yesterday's first round of the PGA Championship, on a course where missing the fairway is a ticket to board the bogey train, where the greens have more twists and turns than carnival rides, Garcia cast aside both reputation and conventional wisdom to carve out a 1-under-par 69.
He did it by landing drives in just four of 14 fairways on the par-4 and par-5 holes. He did it by hitting just nine greens in regulation. He did it by chipping and putting like a man possessed. He walked off the 18 greens with a total of 26 putts. That's a hot putting round for anybody. It's a deal with the devil for Garcia.
Sergio Garcia hit on 4 of 14 fairways but took only 26 putts at Oakland Hills.
Michael Conroy / AP Enlarge
The young Spaniard drove his ball into the rough 10 times and made just one bogey.
This isn't just any rough. It's a uniform four inches and that's not so deep as to lose a household pet. But the Oakland Hills grounds crew has been going out under dark of night, taking big brushes and training the rough to slant back in the direction of the tee, which makes it even harder to both place a club and advance the ball.
"Look down the fairway and the grass [in the rough] is shiny because it is lying towards the tee," said Lee Westwood, none too happy to begin with after opening with a 77. "I can't recall it happening before and I can't think of a reason why they would do it other than to irritate the players. In my opinion [the rough is] too thick around the greens, as well. It takes the skill away from chipping. They are sucking the fun out of [the tournament] when you set it up like that."
So Garcia missed 10 fairways and nine greens, battled rough all day, on long shots and short shots alike, and had the time of his life.
"I scrambled nicely," Sergio said in something of an understatement. "I putted good. I chipped good. I hit a lot of good shots onto the greens."
These aren't just any greens. They were designed by Donald Ross, which means they are raised and sloped. They've been tinkered with by Robert Trent Jones and other wily architects. They are not the fastest greens in the world and, no, they don't include windmills and a clown's mouth, but they just might be as tough to putt as any greens anywhere.
Plus, early yesterday when the sun was beating down and the wind was whipping them drier and drier, they started turning blue and crusty on the edges.
"I just hope they don't lose the greens," Billy Mayfair said after walking off the course with a 69. "If the wind stays up and the sun stays out and we don't get any rain, they're close to going."
The PGA of America agreed. By mid-afternoon they were syringing - a fancy name for hand-watering - the greens on Nos. 1, 9, and 18 between groups. Kerry Haigh of the PGA said it was done due to "dryness and strain on the grass. The watering helps keep them alive."
It rained a couple times later in the afternoon - there was a dinner-time delay of one hour, 25 minutes that ultimately prevented the round from being completed - and overcast skies helped cool the grass as much as did the rain. But that was long after Garcia finished impersonating Ben Crenshaw or, perhaps, Loren Roberts, aka the boss of the moss.
How he did it is virtually unexplainable. But he did. And now he's right in the thick of the hunt as he chases his first major championship.
"Obviously, it's always important to start well and get some confidence on your side," Garcia said. "You don't want to have to be making up a lot of ground. It's not the kind of course where you're going to be able to shoot like a 64 or 65."
Truth be told, it's not the kind of course where you're supposed to miss 10 fairways and nine greens and break par, either, especially in a major championship. And Garcia knows this.
"There were a couple tee shots here and there that obviously weren't very good," he said before heading for the practice range. "Hopefully, I can get a bit more confidence in my driving abilities because you have to be in the fairways on this course. You can't be missing a lot of fairways and expect to do well the whole week. It's too much of a gamble."
Yesterday, though, Garcia kept rolling the dice and hitting 7s. He was a natural on a lottery ticket type of day.
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