Fireworks at golf tournaments are usually reserved for Sundays.
But pay attention on Saturday at The Players with Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia playing together in the last group.
Garcia — champion here five years ago — holds the midway lead at TPC Sawgrass at 11-under par. Woods, looking for win No. 4 on the season, shot a second consecutive 67 to be just a shot behind.
Few feuds are as intense — or as longstanding — as the one between these two.
“Let’s just say they’ve had words,” Steve Williams, Tiger’s former caddie, once told me.
An insider claims the two have almost come to blows.
Certainly, their mutual dislike is legend on the Tour, dating back to the made-for-television Battle at Bighorn in 2000 when Garcia beat a flu-ridden, exhausted Woods on a Monday night and celebrated as if he’d won a major.
Woods didn’t appreciate Garcia pointing a club at him as if challenging him to a sword duel in the 1999 PGA Championship. His behavior in Palm Springs sealed the deal.
The Spaniard let it be known that he couldn’t have cared less what Woods thought.
Garcia got his chance to face Woods when it really counted, in the final round of a major in 2002, at Bethpage.
But that didn’t work out so well for him.
After Woods won the 2006 British Open at Hoylake, playing on Sunday with Garcia — who notoriously wore canary yellow from head to toe — he reportedly texted a friend: “I just bludgeoned Tweety Bird.”
Garcia’s got his shots in, too.
A few months after the bludgeoning at Royal Liverpool, at the Ryder Cup in Ireland, Garcia noted that Woods didn’t have a very good record in the team competition and hoped he would face him “two or three times.” Europe won the cup in a canter and Garcia, paired with Luke Donald, beat Woods and Jim Furyk.
In 2009 at the Bridgestone Invitational — the next time they played together in a PGA Tour event — Garcia noted after their first round that he didn’t mind playing with Woods because “you can see how he can get it around even without hitting it very good.”
Not to be outdone, Woods — who went on to win that tournament — said he thought Garcia would have won a major by then.
"You would’ve thought,” he said. “He’s been so close. He’s been in the final group a few times and he’s been right there with a chance.”
Woods, of course, can crow louder because he’s had Garcia’s number when they’ve played together.
In 19 rounds together in their PGA Tour careers, Woods has shot the lower score 12 times. They’ve shot the same score four times and Garcia’s bettered his nemesis only three times, but not since the 2006 Buick Invitational.
On weekends, Woods has swept Garcia 6-0.
Indeed, Woods is probably wondering: What’s Spanish for lucky rabbit’s foot?
Their 19 rounds together have come in 12 tournaments. Woods went on to win eight of those.
On Friday, Garcia made birdie on six of seven holes on his inward nine, including five in a row.
He shot 65 and wasn’t much interested in discussing Woods when I asked if he felt it would be a good measure of his improving game to come up against the world No. 1.
“No, no, I don’t have to measure myself against anybody,” he said.
Even if he won’t, others will.
Woods is clearly again the best player in the world. It might not be a surprise to see him dominating at courses he’s always done well on — Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill — but what he’s done over these two days at Sawgrass has been impressive.
Since winning here in 2001 — a time when he held all four majors — Woods has only had one top 10 on a course he doesn’t like.
“Over the years I haven’t played my best here,” Woods conceded. “But I’ve still won here. Twice, technically (referring to his US Amateur victory). So I know how to get around this golf course.”
He did it well on Friday, taking advantage of the easier conditions in the morning when the greens weren’t as crusty and the wind was down.
Woods, who hit 15 greens in regulation, set the tone with a birdie on his first hole. There were bogeys on the tough seventh and 14th, but they were more than offset with five birdies and an eagle on the par-5 second.
Through two rounds, Woods is eight under on the par-5s. Sound familiar?
“I like when I’m hitting it flush,” he said with a smile.
He said the key to Sawgrass was not to come here in search of a game, but to already be playing well.
“I think that is the key,” he said. “I came in here with some confidence.”
Woods was feeling so good he took the time to make a joke, playing off the famous call by Gary Koch when Woods, on his way to winning in 2001, made a long snaking putt on the signature 17th hole.
“What I’ve done so far this year has been pretty good. Better than most.”
Now it’s up to Sergio to put a dent in that Woods confidence.