JACKSON, Miss. — Sergio Garcia had gone just more than a year since his last victory, which felt even longer considering he failed to make the FedEx Cup playoffs and fell out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since 2011.
One week, and two big shots, changed everything.
Garcia hit a 5-wood that barely cleared a bunker and set up an eagle putt from just inside 4 feet to tie for the lead, and he won the Sanderson Farms Championship with an 8-iron to 30 inches for birdie on the final hole.
“The perfect ending for an amazing week,” Garcia said.
Peter Malnati, whose lone PGA Tour victory was at the Country Club of Jackson five years ago, rallied from five shots behind with a career-best 63, punctuated by a 30-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole.
That set the target, and Garcia needed his two big shots to catch and then beat him. The 5-wood from 260 yards on the 14th hole hit the top collar of the bunker, hopped onto the fringe and rolled out close to the hole.
But it was the 482-yard closing hole into the wind that made him proud.
“I stood up on 18 and I did what I’ve been doing all week. I trusted myself,” Garcia said. “I aimed down the right side of the fairway and just hit a hard draw — really, really nice drive — and it gave me the ability to have an 8-iron into the green instead of having a 6 or something like that.”
It was his first PGA Tour victory since he won the Masters in 2017 with a back-nine rally highlighted by an 8-iron that glanced off the pin on the 15th and set up eagle. He eventually beat Justin Rose in a playoff.
“This time it was an 8-iron on 18, and to almost hit the pain again and hit it that close, it was a dream come true,” he said.
Closing his eyes right before the stroke, a habit he returned to this week, Garcia made the 30-inch birdie putt and clenched his fist with a grin not seen on the 40-year-old Spaniard lately.
It’s been a tough year.
He had only one top 10 since golf resumed in June because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he missed the cut in three of his four tournaments coming into the Sanderson Farms Championship.
Garcia also learned that his father’s brother, Angel, died of the coronavirus a week ago Saturday. His father lost another brother, Paco, to the virus at the onset of the pandemic. He choked up talking about them right after his round.
“It’s been tough on my dad,” he said. “This one is for them.”
Garcia now has won at least once worldwide in each of his last 10 years, a streak he shares with Rose. He won for the 11th time on the PGA Tour, and the 31st time worldwide.
He finished at 19-under 269 and moves to No. 38 in the world.
J.T. Poston, who started the final round in at three-way tie with Garcia and Cameron Davis of Australia, was one shot behind when he missed the 16th fairway to the right, went into a bunker and failed to save par. He finished with two pars for a 70 to finish alone in third.
Davis had three bogeys on the front nine and was never a factor, closing with a 72.
Malnati had four birdies on the front nine and then began the back nine with three straight birdies. After making a 10-foot par putt on the 14th, he added two more birdies for a 63. He never thought it was going to be good enough to win. Except for a great shot by Garcia on the final hole, it was almost good enough for a playoff.
“I feel like I won the tournament,” Malnati said after his round. “I probably won’t, but I feel like I did, and it’s amazing.”
He spent the rest of the day playing with his toddler son, and then came out to the 18th to see Garcia and saw a clutch finish for the Spaniard.
Garcia heads for Las Vegas, with the Masters just over a month away.
“A boost of confidence, there’s no doubt,” Garcia said. “Every time you play well, even if I would have not won it, it still would have been a massive high for me this week. To be able to do a lot of the things that I did, it meant a lot. It showed me a lot of what I still have and what I still can do.”
JACKSON, Miss. — Sergio Garcia squeezed his eyes shut on the 18th green, not as he stood over his putt but when he saw it stop one turn short of dropping for another birdie.
No matter. He played bogey-free Saturday in the Sanderson Farms Championship for a 6-under 66, and he was tied for the lead in his debut at the Country Club of Jackson.
Cameron Davis set the target early when the Australian opened with five straight birdies and then hit fairway metal to 10 feet for eagle on the par-5 14th, carrying him to a 9-under 63. He was the first to post at 14-under 202, a lead that held until Garcia caught him, and J.T. Poston made a 12-foot par save on the final hole for a 69 to join them.
Garcia is getting plenty of attention for putting with his eyes closed, something he says he has done frequently in practice and at tournaments, including his 2017 victory in the Masters.
He also is enjoying himself, even when putts that look like they’re going in stay out.
“We love to make every putt we look at — or not look at, in this case — but we know that’s not going to happen,” Garcia said. “At the end of the day, if I can leave the course feeling like I’ve given it my best chance — like I did today — that’s all I can do.”
He might need to make everything on Sunday in what figures to be a horse race, with 10 players separated by four shots on a course renowned for its pure, fast greens.
Poston reached 15 under with a two-putt birdie on the 14th and a pitch from the rough to 4 feet on the reachable par-4 15th. But he was too steep on a bunker shot on the 16th, coming up 30 feet short and leading to bogey. Poston stayed in a tie by saving par from a bunker on the 18th with a 12-foot putt for a 69.
“Three guys tied for the lead and a bunch of guys right behind us, so I think you’re going to have to go shoot something pretty low because out of that group somebody is going to shoot probably 6, 7 under I would guess, maybe even lower,” Poston said. “I think it’ll still take a good score, so my mindset will still be trying to make a bunch of birdies.”
Brandt Snedeker, looking confident with that pop of a putting stroke, shot a 67 and was one shot behind along with Kristoffer Ventura, the former Oklahoma State start from Norway who had a 68.
For Keegan Bradley, it was a battle. Staked to a two-shot lead going into the weekend, he had three bogeys on the front nine before he hit a hybrid from 255 yards to 15 feet for an egle on the 11th hole. He finished with seven pars for a 73, though he was very much in the picture.
Bradley was at 12-under 204 along with Aaron Wise (67) and Dan McCarthy (69).
Garcia is trying to extend a streak in which he has won somewhere around the world each of the last nine years dating to 2011, which also was the last time he was outside the top 50 in the world. Garcia slipped out to No. 51 this week and decided to play the Sanderson Farms Championship for the first time.
Not since that 2017 Masters has he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
“Just believing in myself, trusting myself. That’s what I have to do tomorrow, too,” Garcia said. “Obviously Sunday it’s always a little bit more difficult, but I’ve got to go out there and go through the same routine and just go with it, even if you stumble a little bit early on or something like that. Just believe that what you’re doing is right, and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”
Charley Hoffman had a 72 and was four shots behind along with Tyler McCumber, a runner-up last week in the Dominican Republic, who shot 66 to get back in the picture for a final round that figures to be wide open.
JACKSON, Miss. — Keegan Bradley likes the way he’s putting. He must really like the idea that the birdie putts he made Friday on his way to a 7-under 65 were not terribly far from the hole.
In his debut at the Country Club of Jackson, Bradley made three straight birdies on the back nine to take the lead and closed with another short birdie putt to take a two-shot lead over J.T. Poston and Charley Hoffman.
Bradley, whose victory in the BMW Championship at Aronimink two years ago was his only title in the last eight years, was at 13-under 131.
Poston made five birdies on the back nine for a 67, while Hoffman shot 69.
“I had a blast today playing,” Bradley said. “It’s so fun to be done with the round, done with 36 holes and say, `Man, that was a fun time.’ Sometimes it’s not fun at all. What a great day, and I’m bringing a lot to the weekend that I’m happy about.”
It hasn’t been much fun in the last year for Bradley, who won the PGA Championship as a rookie. He hasn’t had a top 10 since his runner-up finish at the Travelers Championship in June 2019. But he likes how he’s playing and how he’s putting on the fast, pure Bermuda greens.
Also having a blast is M.J. Daffue of South Africa, who gets by on Monday qualifiers and is giving himself another chance. Daffue was a Monday qualifier for the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village, birdied his last hole of the second round to make the cut and tied for 22nd. This was his third time Monday qualifying since July.
Daffue, a 31-year-old who played college golf at Lamar, goes week-to-week, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for him to avoid looking ahead.
“Trying to do everything at once — get all those points at once or trying to win — it will really eat at you,” Daffue said. “So I’m just trying to chip away at it. I’m in a good position. Try to get to a target score for the week and just keep hitting the shots and try to hit good putts.”
Kevin Chappell, among four players who shared the lead after the first round, appeared to be on his way to setting a target in the morning and getting some separation. He followed a 64 with five birdies on the front nine — along with a bogey on the par-5 fifth hole — to reach 12 under.
But then he three-putted the 10th. He chopped his way along the left side of the par-5 11th and made double bogey on the third-easiest hole at Country Club of Jackson. He dropped another shot on the 12th. Chappell shot 40 on the back nine and had to settle for a 72, leaving him five shots back.
“I’ve got as much firepower as I need,” Chappell said. “I’ve got to figure out the bad stuff and limit. I’m physically going to make bad golf swings and hit it in bad places. That’s just kind of where my game is at the moment. But I compounded some mistakes out there and let it get out of hand. Those are the things I’ve got to stop.”
He was in the group at 8-under 136 along with Sergio Garcia (68), Anirban Lahiri (70) and Brandt Snedeker (66).
Garcia, making his Sanderson Farms Championship, was putting with his eyes closed. He says he has been doing that a majority of the time all the way back to 2017 when he won the Masters, and sounded surprised to get so many questions.
It was good news for Jay McLuen, another Monday qualifier who suffered a heart attack three years ago and was treated with shock paddles in the ambulance. Then, his wife nearly died in April when a tractor fell on them.
He shot 71 and wound up making the cut on the number. He also made the cut in the Puerto Rico Open, where he was given a sponsor exemption.
JACKSON, Ms. — Experience will always count on the PGA TOUR.
While there is no doubt golf on Tour is certainly getting younger, Jimmy Walker and Charley Hoffman were the latest veterans to remind us that “old man golf” can never be discounted and can still in fact thrive in a youth dominated movement.
Walker and Hoffman joins another 34-year-old veteran Kevin Chappell and young Sabastian Munoz in a four-way tie at the Sanderson Farms Championship at 8-under-par 64.
For every Jon Rahm, Collin Morikawa, Matthew Wolff, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele there is still a Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Stewart Cink or, as it turned out in Thursday’s opening round, a Walker or Hoffman.
The duo were the standouts of the morning wave at the Country Club of Jackson with 43-year-old Hoffman and 41-year-old Walker putting up their 64s. The 20-somethings might be stacked with talent but the 40-somethings have experience, tenacity and mental toughness.
DeChambeau may have claimed the recent U.S. Open at 27 and PGA champion Morikawa is just 23 but between those two wins came a season-opening stunner from 47-year-old Cink. In claiming the Safeway Open last month, Cink took down young guns like Sam Burns and Harry Higgs in the process.
It was just the type of result the veterans draw strength from. Cink hadn’t won since 2009 but used all his guile to plot his way to victory. Now Hoffman and Walker hope to do the same in Mississippi.
Walker hasn’t had a top 10 finish on TOUR since May of 2018. The six-time winner has battled over the last few seasons since contracting Lyme disease that same year. He has finished 158th (2019) and 179th (2020) in the FedExCup.
His last seven events produced six missed cuts and a T62 and as it turns out he wasn’t overly hopeful things would be different this week. Being a 40-something does bring some challenges – in this case a penchant for injury.
“I’ve had some tendonitis in my elbow, shoulder has been hurting, so it’s been tough,” Walker said post round. “My elbow was really hurting. I’ve never had anything like that ever before, and it was pretty painful.
“So I didn’t know really what to expect. I showed up on Tuesday and hit some balls and hit some balls yesterday and was just trying to take it easy. So I’m thrilled, ecstatic, excited. It was fun (today).”
Walker said he could barely grab a club out of his bag with his right hand after the U.S. Open but some rest and rehab – and the smarts to have his physiotherapist with him in Jackson seemed to be paying off. Coincidentally the last time Walker shot 64 or better was the 2018 AT&T Byron Nelson first round, his last top 10 (T6).
Four-time TOUR winner Hoffman has fared better than Walker in recent times but still can only boast four top 10s out of the last three seasons. In response to those younger than him making waves, Hoffman has endeavored to add some distance to his game by working with Greg Rose at the Titleist Performance Institute.
But he’s not becoming a gym rat and bulking up like Bryson. Instead he says the wisdom of age can just make someone of his ilk use his power reserves at critical times. The key is lengthening his swing at the right moments.
“It’s just the game is changing. I’ve never struggled with yardage until the last couple years. That was never something I really explored before, so I started exploring how to do it. Greg trained a bunch of long drive guys, and it’s something that I’ve trained to do, be a little more efficient, swing longer,” Hoffman explained.
“The reality is in this day and age it’s more important to be long than straight, so that’s something I’m trying to do. I wouldn’t say I’ve trained to hit it longer. I’m learning to be more efficient and hit it longer. As a younger guy I didn’t have to worry about hitting it further because I just hit it far, and as an older guy I’ve got to pay attention when I’m swinging it hard.
“My speed, I can get it up there pretty high. I don’t hit it on every shot. If there’s a par-5 where I need to get home in two I’m going to swing hard and hopefully hit the fairway. The other holes, like 18 here, I’m going to try to put it in the fairway and probably not swing quite as hard.”
Spoken like a true veteran.