Garcia's EDS Byron Nelson win shows return to form
BY Bruce Young | US PGA Tour | 2004 EDS Byron Nelson Championship | Wrap | 17 May 2004
Just five weeks after what was a very impressive effort at Augusta, Sergio Garcia has won his first tournament in two years and his first on the USPGA Tour since January of 2002, with a victory at the first playoff hole of the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.
Garcia’s rock solid two putt par at the par four 18th hole at the TPC at the Four Seasons Resort, was enough to eliminate his playoff opponents, Robert Damron and Dudley Hart who both made a mess of their chances.
Garcia, who had slipped to 38th in the world ranking prior to this week, is heading back to where he belongs in world golf with his fourth placing at the Masters and now this win over one of the strongest fields of the year on the PGA Tour.
At the time of his Mercedes Championship win in January of 2002, Garcia had reached number four in the world and there appeared to be no stopping the brilliant Spanish star. As 2002 progressed however there were niggling habits developing in his swing and especially his pre-shot routine. They became almost farcical at the Nedbank Challenge at the end of 2002 and so for that reason and others, Garcia set about reshaping his swing with his fathers help and the work they have both done has culminated in this fine effort this week.
Garcia has always been long from the tee, but his accuracy has often been a problem for him. Even this season in the US, it had not been good but this week it was a different story. He was 6th in that category with nearly 70% of fairways hit and by finding more fairways he was able to top the greens in regulation statistic. Although his putting was good, it was not near the top of the stats as he was hitting more greens than anyone else and therefore had less chance for par saving putts to improve his putts per round average.
Garcia has played very little this season, this event being just his 9th in either the US or Europe, but now that he has found this form and the swing changes are cemented, then we can expect him to be back in the hunt on a regular basis. His tee to green display on Saturday was as good as it gets and with just a little improvement on the greens, there is every reason to expect the 24-year-old, yes, he is just 24, to be contending at the likes of Shinnecock Hills and Royal Troon.
Garcia has often shown that he is a big event player, with three consecutive top tens at the British Open in the last three years, a fourth at the US Open at Bethpage and a fourth at the recent Masters. That does not include the amazing runner up placing at the US PGA just two months after turning pro in 1999.
Dudley Hart recovered from a slow start with bogeys at the first two holes today to shoot 67 and at that stage join Damron in the clubhouse. Damron had produced some heroics himself, his last round 66 including an eagle at the par four 15th. Damron, who won this event three years ago in a playoff over Scott Verplank, had those memories rekindled today when he played with Verplank in the final round and he showed his first real glimpse of form in quite some time. In the 87 starts since his win in 2001 there had been only three top tens so this performance was something out of the blue. Once again the positive memories returning to the scene of success can provide was evident.
Dudley Hart followed his recent fourth placing in Houston with another great week here. His second placing has him back on track and although the year has hardly been a consistent one (this was just the third cut he had made in eight starts) he has the security of knowing that Houston and now this week have him without concerns for his future in 2005. He had been playing on a medical exemption up to this point in 2004.
Tiger Woods showed again just what an amazing golfer and individual he is by somehow managing to get within one of the playoff with only his B minus game. Despite a few tantrums on day three, with a couple of club throwing exhibitions, he kept fighting to the line and in the end came up just the one short. Heaven help his competitors if, and when, he is able to put it all together as there is a big win not far away.
Ernie Els rallied strongly over the weekend to finish in a share of seventh and now heads to Germany this week for the Deutsche Bank Championship with his game right on song.
Of the other pre-tournament favourites Vijay Singh went from bad to worse on day four with a back nine of 42 and apart from his two missed cuts in his last forty one starts on the USPGA Tour, this was by far his worst finish. Phil Mickelson missed his first cut of the year having produced ten top tens in eleven starts until this week.
The Australasian contingent was headed by Stephen Leaney who birdied the last three holes for 68 and a share of 8th. He continues to impress in his first season on the USPGA Tour and with the $US175,000 or so for the placing, he takes his earnings close to $US800,000.
Of the other Australasians, Rod Pampling was 21st, John Senden and Robert Allenby 41st, first round leader Peter Lonard 48th, Craig Perks 54th, Greg Chalmers and Mark Hensby 67th and Aaron Baddeley a distant 80th.