Hole-hearted gratitude

Sergio Garcia celebrates his hole-in-one during the first round of The Players Championship. The Spaniard recovered from a poor start to join Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on one-over 73, but Adam Scott squandered the chance to take a first-round le
Sergio Garcia celebrates his hole-in-one during the first round of The Players Championship. The Spaniard recovered from a poor start to join Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth on one-over 73, but Adam Scott squandered the chance to take a first-round lead.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Garcia hits an ace at 17th hole at Sawgrass as big names struggle to find their rhythm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH (Florida) • The most remarkable switch of fortune continues apace. It is now laughable to recall how Sergio Garcia - poor, put upon, down-trodden Sergio - was once the standard whipping boy for the golfing gods. Suddenly he is the Spaniard with the Midas touch.

Even when things go wrong for Garcia, they turn out right.

In the first round of The Players Championship on Thursday, the 37-year-old's first start since he ended a Major championship drought at the Masters, he took to the 17th hole when three over par and already battling to make the halfway cut.

One of golf's most iconic spots produced a similarly illuminating moment: Garcia stood with right arm aloft after his hole-in-one. How he must wish he could bottle this recurring emotion.

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"It was a great feeling," Garcia said. The only surprise was that he did not walk across the water between tee and green. "I hit a good shot but it could go a few yards past, it could go anywhere. It was nice to see it bounce into the hole because I needed it."

Garcia's ace was the eighth at the 17th hole in Players Championship history. His 73, though, felt like something of a moral victory. "I was a little bit nervous early on but I managed to stay with it and hit better shots," he said. "To salvage one over feels like a decent round."

  • THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP
     

    1ST ROUND (Selected, USA unless stated)


    67 Mackenzie Hughes (Can), William McGirt


    68 Alexander Noren (Swe), Chez Reavie, J.B. Holmes, Jon Rahm (Esp)


    69 Rafael Cabrera-Bello (Esp), Daniel Summerhays, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Cody Gribble, Kyle Stanley, Patrick Cantlay, David Lingmerth (Swe), Brendan Steele, Kim Si Woo (Kor), Daniel Berger


    70 Vijay Singh (Fij), Phil Mickelson, Jason Day (Aus), Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott (Aus), Lee Westwood (Gbr)


    71 Dustin Johnson, Graeme McDowell (Nir)


    72 Ian Poulter (Eng), Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn), Henrik Stenson (Swe), K.J. Choi (Kor)


    73 Sergio Garcia (Esp), Rory McIlroy (Nir), Jordan Spieth

    REUTERS

Even the 17th at Sawgrass was once Garcia's nemesis. In 2013 he took a quadruple bogey there when conceding the title to Tiger Woods.

Two years later the Spaniard was heckled when taking to the same hole in a tournament play-off. Just as elsewhere, agony has turned to ecstasy for the Masters champion.

If Room 101, with its focus on pet hates, is ever introduced to golf, Rory McIlroy will have little trouble working out where to start.

One of this sport's great anomalies is that one of the finest players of his generation struggles on the front nine at Sawgrass, especially when compared with such stunning statistics on the inward half.

The Northern Irishman arrived at this Players Championship with an aggregate score of plus nine before the turn since 2013. From there and over the same time period, he was 40 under.

When the 28-year-old dropped a shot at the first hole, with new equipment in hand, amid Thursday's most testing conditions and following the inevitable down time as associated with his recent marriage, the narrative seemed set.

It is partly to McIlroy's credit that this time events did not follow a trend. He reached halfway in even-par 36 before the kind of concentration lapse which undermined earlier fine work.

The four-time Major winner missed from tap-in range at the 10th hole for a double bogey, then handed another two shots back to the course after finding water from the 14th tee to finish with a 73.

Dustin Johnson, the world No. 1, signed for an opening 71, while Jason Day, the defending champion, had to make do with a 70. The 18-hole lead is five under, as held by Canadian William McGirt and American Mackenzie Hughes.

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

THE PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP

Day 3: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 2am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Hole-hearted gratitude'. Print Edition | Subscribe