Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia didn’t do much talking with their clubs on Saturday.
But they sure did with their mouths.
It’s rare that golfers, who value their sport’s tradition of good etiquette, become embroiled in public spats, especially during a tournament.
But Woods and Garcia couldn’t help themselves at The Players, trading barbs during the weather-interrupted third round, as Swedish rookie David Lingmerth overtook both of them to claim a two-shot lead going into the final day of the richest event in golf.
Woods and Garcia have long a history of enmity, but over the years have managed — however thinly — to publicly veil their mutual dislike.
That all ended on Saturday when Garcia raised the specter of intentional gamesmanship by Woods.
The Spaniard became incensed when the crowd got noisy as he hit his second shot into the par-5 second hole, leading to a bogey.
He blamed the commotion on Woods, who was almost 50 yards away in the pinestraw left of the fairway.
“It was my shot to hit,” Garcia said. “He moved all the crowd that he needed to move, and I waited for that.”
When Garcia — who couldn’t see Woods — decided to hit, Woods pulled a 5-wood from his bag, signaling that he’d try to hit a big hook into the green. The galleries, loving his bravado, started to cheer.
“I want to say that he didn’t see that I was ready,” said Garcia. “But you do have a feel when the other guy is going to hit. Right as I was on top of the backswing, I think he must have pulled a 5-wood or 3-wood out of the (bag) and obviously everybody started screaming.
“It was unfortunate. I might have hit it (well right) if nothing happens, you never know. If I hit a good shot there and make a birdie, it gets my day started in a bit of a different way.”
When he was pressed, Garcia further criticized Woods.
“I think that I try to respect everyone as much as possible out there,” he said. “I try to be careful what I do to make sure it doesn’t bother the other players.”
That is debatable, given the fact that the normally laid back Adam Scott — who counts Garcia among his friends — became angry with the Spaniard’s petulant behavior at last year’s PGA Championship.
Eventually, Woods heard — during a weather delay — what Garcia said and decided not to take the high road.
“The marshals, they told me he already hit, so I pulled a club and was getting ready to play my shot,” Woods said. “And then I hear his comments afterwards. Not real surprising that he’s complaining about something.”
That last one stings because Garcia has a long history of whining about bad breaks. Garcia wasn’t going to turn the other cheek when presented with Woods’ reaction.
“At least I’m true to myself,” he said.
What, exactly, does that mean? Taken a certain way, it could be interpreted as being a very low blow.
Not surprisingly, they didn’t try to talk it through when they returned from the weather delay.
“We didn’t do a lot of talking,” deadpanned Woods.
Neither, if truth be told, did they do a lot of good playing.
The danger for them before they teed off in the last group on Saturday was that they’d become so caught up in their personal battle that they’d lose focus of the big picture.
And so it was on Saturday.
Woods, who opened with two rounds of 67, was even par through 14 holes and treading water when play was called because of darkness.
Garcia was one shot worse.
They were both at 10 under par — along with Henrik Stenson — and two shots behind the surprise leader, Lingmerth.
They’d both do well to worry less about their personal battle and more about winning the war.