Garcia remains as enigmatic as ever
Two years ago, when Sergio Garcia captured the Players Championship by beating Paul Goydos in a playoff for the biggest victory of his career, he seemingly was on top of the world.
But instead of finally fulfilling his immense talent, he's closer to rock bottom as he returns to TPC Sawgrass this week for golf's "fifth major."
El Nino, a nickname that translates to "the boy" and dates to his brilliance as a teenager, suffered through the worst season of his career last year and has not finished inside the top 35 in any of his seven PGA Tour stroke-play events in 2010.
The only bright spot to his season was finishing fourth in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, but even then he was routed by eventual winner Ian Poulter in the semifinals and by Camilo Villegas in the consolation match.
"Well, we're working on it, but it's taking time," Garcia told reporters when asked about the state of his game a few weeks ago. "Whenever I figure it out, I'll let you know."
That was before he missed the cut at the Verizon Heritage and finished in a tie for 70th in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, beating only three golfers who played 72 holes despite being the highest-ranked player in the field.
Garcia played the weekend at the Masters in 76-78 to finish in a tie for 45th before shooting 77 in round two to miss the cut in the Verizon, and he closed with a 76 in New Orleans.
"I have no idea what is going on," he said at Augusta. "It has nothing to do with not being sharp for the Masters. It is just my game is not good in general. I started badly and just got worse.
"You can't do much if you cannot hit the ball where you're aiming it. It doesn't matter where you're playing if you are doing that. ... I'll wait until the end of year before I decide what I am going to do about my game. It's just not working."
It's impossible to get inside his head, but more than one on-course television commentator has said that he seems to stop trying when things go bad.
Garcia's defenders will point out that he has been bothered by a hand injury since his last tournament of 2009, the Dubai World Championship in November, which made it impossible for him to practice at home before the season.
That's another thing about the Spaniard that rubs people the wrong way. There's always an excuse or complaint, and if you took a poll of fans and media, there is no question that he would be labeled the No. 1 whiner in the game.
After making a bogey on the final hole of the 2008 Open Championship at Carnoustie and losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington, Garcia blamed course workers for taking too long while raking a bunker.
When he finished second to Harrington the following month in the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, the European media had a field day with a feud that had developed between the Ryder Cup teammates.
Paddy is one of the more likeable players in golf, and apparently the problem was simply that he twice had denied Garcia his first major title.
"We have zero in common, bar the fact that we both play golf," Harrington said, trying his best to be diplomatic. "He is the antithesis of me, and I am the antithesis of him. We play the game in exactly the opposite way. He is destined to find the long game easy and the short game hard, and I am the opposite.
"We're also competitors who for the last few years have been vying over who is the No. 1 golfer in Europe. I think in the hearts and minds of a lot of people, Garcia would have been No. 1, while I have been ranked No. 1. As you can imagine, no quarter is given.
"It is not as if we have ever had a row or a run-in."
Garcia and Harrington worked out an uneasy truce with the help of their teammates when they played together in the Ryder Cup in September 2008 at Valhalla.
However, it is interesting to note that after the Americans won for the first time since 1999, some Euros said that the camaraderie in the team room was not as good as it had been in other years.
"It certainly has been difficult between me and Sergio," Harrington said. "Things definitely got a little bit tense there, but the Ryder Cup really helped.
"We spent the week in each other's company, played a couple of practice matches together and he got to say his piece, things he wanted to say all along. Some of the lads eventually drew it out of him and he got to tell me, that he really wanted to smash that putter over my head."
Garcia also has complained at times that the golf gods seem to be against him, that Tiger Woods gets all the breaks and never seems to have to pay for his bad shots, and that the locker room at the Ryder Cup was too small.
Last year's slump was blamed on his breakup with girlfriend Morgan-Leigh Norman, Greg's daughter.
He has drawn the ire of fans by spitting in the cup after missing a putt at Doral in 2007. He flipped off spectators at Bethpage Black during the 2002 U.S. Open when they called him "Waggle Boy" and counted his hitches out loud when he was having trouble pulling the trigger on shots.
Garcia even ticked off Spanish icon Seve Ballesteros for demanding appearance money to play in the 2002 Seve Trophy and then skipped the event when he didn't get it.
Last year, he trashed Augusta National on his way out the gate after shooting 75-74 on the weekend to finish in a tie for 38th.
"I don't like it," he said of one of golf's most revered courses. "I don't think it's fair ... it's too tricky. Even when it's dry, you get mud balls in the middle of the fairways. It's a guessing game.
"I don't care, they can do whatever they want. It's not my problem. I just come here and play, then go home."
His management company had him apologize almost immediately, and he came back to the Masters this year with a different attitude.
Garcia got out of his car and took a picture of Magnolia Lane when he arrived in April and posted the shot on his Facebook page, with a comment saying how much he enjoys the place.
The he tried to explain himself to reporters.
"I am the way I am, and I think that's one of the things people like about me," Garcia said. "I speak my mind, and sometimes I should think a little bit more before I speak. I try to be sincere, I try to say what I am feeling, but sometimes, unfortunately, it gets me in trouble.
"We all make mistakes and I made mine last year. I apologized for it right away. The Masters is always a special event. It's a wonderful golf course. There is no other place like this. The history, the course, the crowds, even how they cut the fairways. It's just different.
"I'm just hoping I can get going in a good way."
That didn't happen, however, and a little more than a year after having a chance to take the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings with Tiger Woods on the sidelines at the start of the season, he fell to No. 24 last week.
Once considered the best player never to win a major, Garcia doesn't even get into the conversation these days now until Steve Stricker, Lee Westwood and Poulter are mentioned.
He has struggled with his putting, his grip and even one of the best swings in the game, but perhaps there is an easy solution.
El Nino turned 30 in January. It's time for him to man up.