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García, the best long-straight driver since Morgan-Leigh's dad, admitted that his head wasn't into golf and soon was scattering tee shots. His scores rose, and his confidence dipped. A month after the breakup he shot 75--74 on the weekend at the Masters—the tournament that has defined Spain's golfing heroes, Seve Ballesteros and Jose María Olázábal, more than any other. Despondent, García said of Augusta National, "I don't like it, to tell you the truth. I don't think it's fair. It's too much of a guessing game. I don't care; they can do what they want. I simply come here and play and then go home." He was a man with a dark cloud over his head. At Lynch's, García's soccer pals had their own diagnosis: "The putter's killing him."
For García, the fog still hasn't completely lifted, despite a fourth-place finish at the Accenture Match Play Championship in February. In recent weeks he has been experimenting with an interlocking grip—no small adjustment even for a professional.
"It feels as if [the interlocking grip] keeps my hands a little more together," García says. "Unfortunately, because I've played my whole life with either a 10-finger or an overlap [grip], I don't have enough strength in the three fingers that you use when you interlock it, and it feels quite weak. I think if I manage to work it and it gets to the point where it works really good and I play a couple of tournament rounds and it feels good out there, I might change it because I like the way it feels when I practice with it."
At the Players, though, it was the overlap grip, and García made the cut comfortably with rounds of 69 and 70. Though he finished 47th, he played with a smile, a marked difference from the slumped shoulders of the last year. "I'm not going to lie to you," García said after a third-round 71. "I'm not having the best time golfwise. You're never bulletproof. When things are going right on and off the course, everything seems to be fine, but if things aren't, it can play with your head and things get tougher."
Is he close to his 2008 Players form? "I'm close," Garcia says, "but I'm not close close."
Lee Westwood, who has returned from his own precipitous fall, predicts that García will be back. "He's simply a bit short of confidence at the moment."
And then there are the lads at Lynch's, who played García and his soccer team to a 3--3 draw, though Doherty says there was a scoring dispute. Not to worry. The two sides have agreed to a rematch before the 2011 Players. All things considered, Sergio would be happy to lose the football match if he could return to Lynch's on Sunday night to celebrate a different victory.
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