Hala Sergio! #SergioSlam2017

The Masters
9 April 2017

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Sergio Garcia won the 81st Masters.

Sergio Garcia won The Masters.

Sergio Garcia is a major champion.

Yes indeed it is all true. Last week I told you that it might happen. There was no rocket science behind it, just a refusal to accept that his day would not come. If you kept the faith and stuck with him then well done to you.

You can find lots of stats that might help explain the reasons why Sergio won: his driving; his irons and GIR return; his proximity to the pin; his scrambling; his strokes gained; his putting; but you’ve heard it all already and for me it was simply a case of dominating certain holes in a manner in which he had not quite done in recent years. For example, last week I told you he had struggled badly on the 1st hole in 2016, playing it in +4 for the week. This year he played it in -2, including that superb birdie on Sunday that set the early tone. For 2015 and 2016 combined he played a total of nine holes in over par, whereas this year only the 4th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes stifled him, and at that, at no more than +1 over the four days for each. Damage limitation, and ceteris paribus (e.g. continuing to make a mockery of no. 15, continuing to make solid pars on 12 and 16), it was a formula that would prove successful.

I also told you last week that Sergio needed to sort out his front nine numbers in particular. He had been nine shots worse on the front side in 2015/2016 than on the back nine. This year, he obliterated the front nine, playing it in -6 for the week, which was even better than the -3 he recorded on the back. He was at least three shots better than the 2015/2016 averages on the 1st, 5th and 6th holes. The way he managed to scramble a bogey on the 10th and a par on the 13th on Sunday underlined the execution of a damage limitation regime that helped to reduce the negative impact of any mistakes. The 13th the ultimate turning point, somehow salvaging a par from an unplayable in the woods.

But the stats are the stats. This was a win made possible only by the years of near misses. Justin Rose summed it up best himself. If you want to win majors you’ve got to be ready to lose them. If you are good enough to be in the position to win them you will get into the position again and again and there will be pressure. You will need to learn to cope with it. When the chance comes, it gets intense. Sergio had that intense look in his eye. The conviction with which he smoked his first tee shot on Sunday. And again on the 2nd. Again on the 3rd. And when things temporarily went south early on the back nine only for a reprise on the 13th green, the tee shots on 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 were all flawlessly fierce and fueled by a Spanish adrenaline ignited by the returning whiff of victory and a steely determination to not let it slip this time. The approach on 14 was the most predictable outcome in the history of golf. You just knew he would not fail to find that slope. I told you last week that he loves the 14th.

Then, the approach on 15. This deserves an entire book. Probably one of the top five greatest golf shots in Masters history. Maybe the best. The look in his eyes as he leered up and down at ball and pin will live long in the memory. And the putt. The PUTT. Tell yourself Sergio isn’t a great putter. He putted into the hole an eagle putt on 15 on Masters Sunday having almost thrown it away. This on top of other vital putts for birdie and par made earlier on. TELL YOURSELF SERGIO CANNOT PUTT. It is not true and maybe it never was. Maybe it was just something we convinced ourselves.

The standard of golf down the stretch will be remembered forever. The 16th hole, where Rose answered Sergio and clawed back a shot by making his birdie with that Olympian spirit. He did not really deserve to lose. Two Ryder Cup warriors this time battling against one another. The 18th was drama in the extreme. Convinced that Rose would not miss, I feared that this would be the defeat of all defeats for Sergio and force him into early retirement. But no, a chance to WIN. A slippery downhiller, but still a chance to win. Shades of Carnoustie’s 18th green in 2007. And when the putt strayed out on the right side, the bastard ghosts of Carnoustie you feared had crossed the pond to Georgia and Sergio would be broken again.

But no. It was Sergio’s driving that wore Justin down more than anything. The 18th hole set up perfectly for Sergio’s power cut. He fired it out there yet again in the playoff as if it was on tap, and when Rose let his tee shot slide into the trees it was effectively done. Sergio firing into the 18th green with a wedge as he had done in regulation. 100% committed to every swing. The putt did not have to drop but it was fitting that it did. A celebration notable in its pure elation rather than raw emotion. The Augusta crowd almost as jubilant as Sergio and his family. I found this telling. He did not seem to emit the sense of relief, or “finally”, that you might have expected. It was just pure joyous celebration.

Above all it was Sergio’s refusal to accept defeat that pulled him through. No fear of failure anymore. No acceptance of just trying one’s best and see if it is good enough anymore. No “played well but the other guy just played better” anymore. No. No. NO. This was flat out REFUSAL.

As is often said when someone breaks a hoodoo, the floodgates may well open up and Sergio could become a multiple major winner before too long. Not only do I agree, I’ve got my money on “SergioSlam 2017”.

Vamos!

Dustin Puts The Other 63 In The Dustbin

26 March 2017
PGA Tour / European Tour

Dustin Johnson won the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club on Sunday, defeating a resilient and resurgent Jon Rahm 1 up on the 18th hole in the final, having seen off the challenge of Japan’s Hideto Tanihara earlier in the semi-final. The final match looked all but done with Johnson 5 up after eight holes without having had to produce anything near his best golf to that point. Rahm won the next two holes in succession, but when DJ won the 12th hole to get back to 4 up you felt that Rahm would end up in the garbage can along with the other 62 contenders and DJ would become the first player to win all four WGC titles (Tiger never won the HSBC Champions). Rahm had other ideas though and wins on the 13th, 15th and a dramatic twenty foot putt drained on the 16th meant that DJ’s lead was just 1 up with two holes remaining. The tricky pin position and swirling wind on the short 17th led to steady pars by both, but the 18th was birdieable and I favoured Rahm to claw back the deficit at the death and take it to extra holes. However, when he narrowly misjudged his chip from behind the 18th green, just failing to get his ball to release down the slope towards the pin, his chance for birdie was greatly reduced and in the end a par was not enough. DJ has been performing impeccably since Riviera, notching up WGC wins now seemingly with relative ease, although, as usual his outward demeanour belies the hunger deep inside and the undeniable work ethic on and off the course behind the scenes.  DJ has very much cemented his position at the top of the OWGR with this win, while Rahm now moves up to 14th.

Bill Haas defeated Tanihara to win the third place prize, Bill’s best ever finish in a WGC event, whilst quarter final places for Phil Mickelson, Soren Kjeldsen, Ross Fisher and Alexander Noren all represent very strong returns for the week. There were a few notable group stage casualties including Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Match play golf also failed to extract the best out of Ryder Cup aficionados Patrick Reed and Thomas Pieters, whilst Sergio Garcia and Shane Lowry suffered from being drawn in the group of death along with eventual finalist Rahm. Perhaps if the prize for losing all three group matches was not $49,500 just for turning up then we might have seen some different outcomes. Dustin himself (1), Noren (8) and Mickelson (14) were among just five of the top sixteen seeds to reach the knockout stages and the only three of which to make it as far as the quarters. This includes defending champion Jason Day, who very sadly has had to take time out from the game to support his mother who is undergoing surgery. The Scrambler wishes the Day family the very best with this. Day’s press conference was admirable in its bravery and also its honesty – “she’s the reason I am here” – we sometimes forget the importance of what has made the player in the background.

At various points throughout the week, the explosive driving of both Rahm and DJ was highlighted, but on Sunday afternoon in particular this was underlined as they drove a combined 850+ yards on the par five 12th hole, leaving nothing but wedge approaches for both. This was slightly sensationalized in the coverage given that the hole plays significantly downhill and there is a path to help the ball along the way, however, the stats are no less jaw-dropping and it is the accuracy of the driving that is so impressive. Rahm also drove the 13th green over water into the wind and drove his tee shot on the 18th through the green, both similarly huge and accurate hits under pressure playing against the world number one. He may not have won, but Rahm’s stock is rapidly rising, almost as fast as his blood temperature whenever he makes a mistake, but perhaps not quite as fast as that of Tyrell Hatton.

Scrambler Pick – Shell Houston Open: This week the Tour returns to Houston on a course that has staged the event since 2006. Past winners in the field include JB Holmes, Jim Herman, Matt Jones, Phil Mickelson, Paul Casey, Johnson Wagner and Adam Scott, however the former winner that jumps out at me most of all was also the winner of the alternate event last week in Puerto Rico, D.A. Points. At 150/1, not putting a few quid on him each way would be absolute insanity. Yes, the field also includes Spieth (has finished second here), Kuchar (likewise), Stenson (second here twice), Rahm, Rose, Rickie, Swafford and Walker, but some of these guys might have Augusta on their minds, whereas D.A. Points will just be playing on cloud nine, on a track on which he has won before, fresh off his first victory since he last won….right here. Yes, my previous pick for an each way windfall (Schneiderjans at the Valspar: MC) was pathetic, but this week looks almost too good to be true. On Point!

The Hand of DJ Too Good In Mexico City

5 March 2017
PGA Tour / European Tour

Dustin Johnson won the WGC Mexico Championship at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Mexico City by just one shot over England’s Tommy Fleetwood, with Ross Fisher and Jon Rahm finishing a shot further back in a tie for fourth. In a city that has not hosted an elite sporting event of such global magnitude since the 1986 World Cup, when the Hand of God was a decisive factor, it was the gifted and legitimate hands of world number one DJ that were the difference, leaving neither a sense of regret concerning unfortunate refereeing oversights nor any need for divine intervention. Despite contenders Mickelson, McIlroy, Thomas, Fisher and Pieters all jostling for position to become the main threats to DJ on Sunday, it turned out that the young Spaniard Jon Rahm was the main challenger on the back nine, even edging into a one stroke lead after a birdie on the 15th hole took him to -5 for the day and -14 overall, however a prompt Johnson response on the 15th to get to -14 and a bogey-bogey run on the 16th and 17th by Rahm ended the Spaniard’s challenge, yet simultaneously, Tommy Fleetwood emerged from the pack at the death as his back nine 32 culminated in a 39-foot birdie putt drained on the 18th green to pile some last minute pressure on DJ, who was grappling along behind to par the last three holes. Par the last three holes he did, playing to a conservative yardage on the dangerous par three 17th and recovering brilliantly from a pulled tee shot on the par four 18th, in fact the 120-yard fairway bunker shot from an awkward stance on the 18th was rightly highlighted as the decisive tournament winning shot, reminiscent of Steve Stricker at Deere Run in 2011.

The main pretenders to DJ’s world number one throne and other in-form candidates, namely Rory, Jordan, Rickie, the Justins, Sergio, Hideki and Adam, all ultimately failed to keep pace with DJ this week. Justin Thomas came closest, but his back nine club-throwing show put him out of touch of the lead and he could not recover in time. The leaderboard was loaded over the weekend, however in the very closing stages it was Rahm, Fisher, Pieters and Fleetwood who came to the fore. In truth it is rare in golf that even three or four of the top ten players in the OWGR end up challenging for a tournament victory with three holes remaining, but it is nonetheless disappointing that McIlrory and JT, for example, could not hang in there until the end. The absence of Day and Stenson was also a non-recurring anomaly you would hope. Much like Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood took this big stage as a chance to back up recent winning performances and mix it on a higher level and both gave excellent accounts of themselves. For Fisher, Hatton and Pieters, their top-ten performances also back up recent form and will give them confidence for the months ahead.

The irony of the WGC Championship event having been relocated from Trump Doral to Mexico and staged just weeks after the new US President’s inauguration was highlighted in the prelude to the event, but such was the resounding success of the tournament that all non-golf narratives were long forgotten as early as Thursday morning. The course withstood the test of the best players in the world seeking to rip it to shreds, with its narrow lines, undulations and taxing greens with a variety of opportunity and challenge presented by pin placements. Given the altitude, of which we were constantly reminded in coverage to the point of distraction, the course in effect played much shorter than 7,000 yards, but it left many of the big hitters scratching their heads. True, the winner was a bomber, but you don’t get to world number one unless you can do everything very well and Dustin’s short game and putting (apart from day one) were good enough. The event was hugely enjoyable, with large crowds delighted to have the top players in the world on their doorstep and cameos such as football announcers commentating on hole-outs, not least for Justin Thomas’s ace, enhancing the spectacle. If crowds are chanting at a non-Ryder Cup event, then that is a clear sign of success and it would seem to go deeper than a mass gathering of drunken louts packed into a bowl in the desert at Phoenix. Even the beeps from the traffic jams heard alongside the 1st green were entertaining.

Most commentators when asked about Mickelson this week would probably say the same thing – good old Phil, spraying the ball all over the course but still able to make unlikely pars and birdies, negotiating gaps that nobody else could even imagine and holing out from all over the place to finish T7. Yes, it is the magic of Phil, but there was a side to him on show that I previously would have overlooked but this week was just plain annoying. That three hole stretch on Saturday, when twenty minutes or more in total were spent looking for balls, consulting with officials and almost inventing new rules, was infuriating to watch. Professionals should always use the rules to their advantage when it is reasonable, but rules officials bowing to the word of Phil and his refusal to accept penalty, distracting playing partners to the detriment of their own rounds in the process, was not enjoyable viewing, even if he was technically breaking no rules and showing his experience. Other incidents compounded the assessment. The playing of a shot to greenside with the group ahead still on the green and the “so-what-I-am-Phil” attitude. On the 18th green on Sunday, as the local crowd who were quite obviously vehemently behind the efforts of Jon Rahm and wished to give him a prolonged ovation after he holed out, caddie Bones holding an obnoxious hand in the air to say “quiet please Phil is is here”. Too bad Bones and too bad Phil, wait your turn and let Mexico support its man for another few seconds. I also had a slight concern with the caddie situation on Friday. As was pointed out continuously in coverage, Phil’s brother Tim Mickelson is Jon Rahm’s manager. When Bones had to retire early on Friday, Tim stepped in as replacement caddie to Phil. In most other sports there are rules preventing such conflict of competitive interest. How could Tim Mickelson conceivably influence the contest such that it would benefit Jon Rahm you might be asking? Theoretically it is a a far-fetched likelihood, but it is not inconceivable even in accidental terms. On Sunday Rahm and Mickelson were grouped together. Would it have been okay then? Maybe so. This entire passage could sound like I am questioning the honour of the Mickelsons. I am not at all, but what I am questioning is small print within the code of competition.

Scrambler Pick – The Valspar Championship: This section is in danger of becoming more and more pointless as the weeks roll by and at this stage I would not expect anyone to back my tips for an each way return. Louis Oosthuizen, in hindsight probably weary from a crazy schedule of air miles in recent weeks, never got going and returned a sluggish T48 in a field of 76 players. I am not looking to call the winner necessarily, but I am looking for some value from a little bit deeper in the field every week. This week the Tour returns to Florida and the horribly named “Snake Pit” of Innisbrook’s Copperhead course. I am putting my house on Ollie Schneiderjans at 80/1. I will not bother explaining why, other than pointing to three top-tens so far this season, including at Torrey Pines and Riviera. Go Ollie!

Rumford Up At Karrinyup

19 February 2017
European Tour

Brett Rumford won the inaugural ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth at Lake Karrinyup Country Club on Sunday, defeating Thailand’s Phachara Khongwatmai 2&1 the final six hole matchplay encounter. It was the 37 year old Australian’s sixth win on the European Tour and his first since a superb two week spell in 2013 when he won back-to-back events at the Ballantine’s Championship and the Volvo China Open. Since then, Rumford had lost form and even lost his European Tour card by the end of 2016, but this victory in his home town secures his card and puts him right up to the to 11th in the Race to Dubai standings. After the event Rumford was very gracious towards his background team that has helped him in the last few months and I suspect that a player of his pedigree, who clearly knows how to win and is now playing with a renewed lease of life, will feature high on many leaderboards during the remainder of the season.

The event format, whilst not attracting huge numbers of top ranked players, seemed to come off very well and has to be considered a success. The climactic stages were tense with several of the matches going to extra hole shootouts and plenty of good golf being played on a classy golf course. Louis Oosthuizen, last year’s winner of the Perth International strokeplay event held here between 2012 and 2016, fell at the quarter final stage after finding the sand on the short shootout playoff hole to hand the win to Adam Bland. Brett Rumford had dominated the first three rounds and would have taken a five shot lead into Sunday in a strokeplay format, albeit this point being irrelevant in the context of competition design structure, yet finishing in the top 8 at least afforded him a bye past the first knockout round. He backed up his lead in matchplay, seeing off Hideto Tanihara, Wade Ormsby and Adam Bland en route to the showdown with 17 year old Khongwatmai. Rumford edged ahead in the final and was 1-up on the par three 5th tee (Lake Karrinyup’s 12th hole) where he delivered a decisive tee shot to close range. Khongwatmai, pressured into going at the flag, pulled his tee shot left into an impossible lie in the greenside bunker on the short side and when his bizarre effort to get out of the bunker with a putter failed to come off, the title was Rumford’s.

Louis Oosthuizen commented that apart from a “few tweaks here and there” he was positive about the format. What the tournament certainly adds is several extra junctures of potential drama compared to a normal 4-day strokeplay tournament, namely the third round cut to 24 players and the relentless knock-out final day format which proved to be entertaining throughout. The event would possibly have been enhanced had: (a) there been a higher proportion of big names in the field; and (b) had pre-tournament favourites such as Alex Noren, Lasse Jansen, Peter Uihlein and Thorbjorn Olesen performed better – all failed to make it to the Sunday matchplay stage, but taking nothing away from the players who produced an excellent spectacle in front of a healthy crowd. Local knowledge and home soil proved to be hugely significant factors this week, with Australians comprising 13 of the final 24 and 6 of the 8 quarter finalists.

If I am to be critical, I think that the prize structure could be reconsidered, particularly for the lower placings. In the end players that finished T25 went home with €12,741 each, whilst those who made the final 24 but lost in the first knockout round took away between €13,877 and €16,316. This means that in some cases players who negotiated the significant Saturday evening hurdle still ended up taking away just €1,136 more than the players in T25th. Ideally the marginal incentive for making the final 24 would be greater. Players always try to finish as high as they can every week for tour earnings/points and world ranking points of course, however with this particular format an extra reward for making the top 24 would be no harm.

Overall an enjoyable format and an innovation that I hope goes from strength to strength. I will also be keeping my eye out in the future for young Khongwatmai making more attempts at putting out of bunkers!

Afterword – I was surprised and confused by comments made by Sky’s Nick Dougherty regarding the tournament: surprised by his negativity towards the format; confused by the lack of logic behind his views. In his opinion, which he stated was from a player’s perspective, the format renders the first 54 holes somewhat meaningless if a player leading by seven strokes still ends up losing his first knockout match, and he felt that the tournament’s status is undermined if the “best person does not win” and it throws up a “strange winner”. He was also not very enthusiastic about the location of the event so in Perth. In summary he suggested that the tournament should not count for the Race to Dubai! This is remarkably simplistic input from Nick, whether he is seeing it from a player’s perspective (former player that is) or not. The appeal of it is the marriage of strokeplay and matchplay to determine which players can position themselves over the first three days in one format and excel in the final day shootout in another format. The players will already know that leading the tournament by seven shots after the first three days is going to be somewhat irrelevant in terms of winning the event, but that is how it is structured and that is what the players are entering into. There is a clear goal at the start of the tournament, finishing in the top 24 after three days guarantees a minimum finish and gets you into the super sixes where anything can happen. There is also a clear incentive for players to aim to finish in the top 8, with two clear benefits: (1) to earn a bye past the first matchplay round; and (2) a guaranteed finish within the top 16 at the end of Sunday’s play. Whenever professionals are involved in matchplay everyone says how they would like to see more of it, so to immediately undermine such a brave attempt at innovation seems quite odd. What confused me even further was that Dougherty was so positive about the Centurion Golf Sixes team event coming up, his argument being that “it is what it is” and it is “fun”.  Is he saying that the Perth event is not “what it is” and is not fun? As far as I could see, Perth very much looked like “what it is” and it looked a lot of fun, as the players involved stated afterwards. He said that the Centurion is not “pretending to be a normal tournament”, as if to suggest that Perth was pretending in some respect. Both tournaments are not pretending to be anything. Both tournaments are competitions designed in certain ways aimed at providing different types of drama to the spectator and different incentives to the players. There are varying tournament formats and competitive circumstances in golf. The WGC strokeplay events have no cuts, so is Nick saying these should not be ranking tournaments? Several tournaments are played on more than one course (Farmers Insurance Open, AT&T Pebble Beach, Dunhill Links, Joburg Open). Is Nick saying that those tournaments are pretending to be something else as well? What if a tournament is reduced to 54 holes due to bad weather? Should these events not count for the Race to Dubai as well? As for matchplay events such as the WGC Matchplay or the Paul Lawrie, by Nick’s 54 hole lead logic, players who win matchplay matches 10&8 in the first round should be given a bye to the semi-final. The fact is, different tournament formats offer different incentives to competitors and different spectacles to viewers, and as long there is a good combination of spectator interest and player incentive then the competition has a chance of achieving its objectives. Fans and players welcome something new! In any event, Nick’s theory regarding the 54 hole leader curse also proved unfounded, as Brett Rumford, leading by five strokes after three rounds, took huge confidence and belief from his first three rounds into Sunday. He was also able to benefit from his seeded position in the top 8, meaning that he played one less match than Khongwatmai in the end, where fatigue may have told even for the athletic 17 year old Thai. Rumford described the final day format as “gruelling”. True, the organisers may wish to consider a slightly less gruelling system next year, however that point in itself is interesting and suggestive of something that would further contradict Dougherty’s logic, in that, if anything, this tournament should have a larger prize and Race to Dubai points pool and therefore count for even more given the enormity of the task required to finish in the higher places!

Sergio By Night, Sergio By Day

5 February 2017
European Tour

Sergio Garcia had not played much competitive golf in the last few months before this week’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He appeared at just three events at the back end of 2016 in the aftermath of the Ryder Cup, finishing T19 at the CIMB Classic and T9 at the WGC HSBC Champions in October, followed by a T19 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai in November. Not spectacular results, but nonetheless almost $400k earned somewhat effortlessly in the process. Sergio could have been forgiven for delivering another casual, almost nonchalant top twenty finish here in Dubai again at the Emirates Golf Club in his first appearance of 2017, but rather than ease himself into the new year, the brilliant Spaniard decided to go wire-to-wire for his twenty-first career victory on the two big tours, holding off the challenge of Henrik Stenson.

On a first day when much of the focus was misdirected elsewhere, Sergio raced into the lead with a 65 and never surrendered it. Perhaps the conclusion of the third round was critical. In almost complete darkness on Saturday evening, Garcia, Coetzee and Elvira decided to finish the round and played the par five 18th hole with night goggles on. Keen to avoid having to return early on Sunday morning, yet not at the expense of dropping shots, the group went birdie-birdie-eagle in a remarkable scene against the backdrop of a spectacular Dubai night skyline. Garcia’s birdie gave him a three shot lead over Stenson going into the final round and he never really allowed Stenson to get too close on Sunday. After back to back birdies on the 13th and 14th holes had put Stenson within two strokes, Garcia replied with a sublime tee shot to two feet on the par three 15th, which, following a Stenson bogey on the same hole, gave Garcia a four shot cushion with three holes remaining. Work was still to be done, including a superb up-and-down on the 16th, but the two-shot swing on the 15th would prove to be the key moment of the back nine.

There are high expectations of Sergio. Some say he should have won more tournaments. Some say he should have won majors. Some say he will still win many more tournaments. Some say he will still win majors. I would agree with all of it. But the manner in which Sergio’s career has been covered in certain corners of the media raises a concern. We know he is good, just as we know other players are good, but why is there a need to psycho-analyse one of the best golfers of the last twenty years as if he has been failing in some respect? Winning golf tournaments is hard. Winning majors is even harder. There are only four of them a year. It has taken some of the greatest champions in the history of the sport a long time to make the major breakthrough. Some have never made it.

Sarah Stirk and Wayne Riley of Sky Sports have their own views, having apparently undertaken joint roles as Garcia’s psychologists. I had not realised this arrangement was in place. In a comical attempt at post tournament analysis, they seemed to be in a position to confirm that when Sergio was not playing well or winning tournaments every time he teed it up that it was because certain other players were “getting in his head” or because he was not engaged to be married. Would Sergio agree with this? Is this why he only finished tied for 19th place in his previous tournament? Have they asked him? Do they know what his actual psychologist thinks? Does he have one? What was going on with his head when he won all those other tournaments?

Then, in typically pointless fashion, Sarah asked Wayne “do you think Sergio will win a major this year?”. Wayne’s first answer was excellent: “do you want the lottery numbers as well?” and he should have left it at that. However, he then proceeded to undo his good work and claim that Birkdale would be Garcia’s best chance to win a major in 2017. Oh really? Is it because Sergio has finished T29 and T51 on the last two occasions The Open has been staged at Birkdale, despite having a significantly better record at most of the other venues on The Open rota? This is his year at The Open? It could be of course, but is Riley assuming that Sergio cannot putt on the Augusta greens? He has finished in the top-five at The Masters before, been in contention and shot plenty of rounds in the 60’s, so why would Augusta not suit him more than Birkdale? Especially if he putts on those greens like he putted this week. Has a tournament ever been played at this year’s US Open venue Erin Hills? Noting that the answer to that question is NO, then how do we know Birkdale will suit Sergio Garcia more than Erin Hills? By all accounts the long and firm set-up projected for this year’s US Open would seem to appeal to Sergio’s game. As for the PGA, Sergio has not won at Quail Hollow’s regular Tour stop, but he has gone as close as losing a playoff, which suggests that he knows his way around that track and therefore might just see the PGA Championship as just as much of a chance as Birkdale. True enough, Sergio loves The Open and The Open loves him, but I do not see how Birkdale specifically is Garcia’s “best chance” to win a major in 2017. His best chance is simply the next chance, which is in April at Augusta. This week in Dubai he was third in driving distance, second in driving accuracy, first in greens in regulation and seventeenth in putts per GIR. That to me suggests a game ready for anything and anywhere.