Bunker Mentality

Tiger Woods owns Sergio Garcia once again

There's a phrase that describes Sergio Garcia's two balls into the water at the 17th hole at The Players Championship, just as he was tied with Tiger Woods after 70 holes, on the same weekend in which he engaged in some venomous woofing with Tiger, and that phrase is:

Career-defining.

The Sergio who rinsed two balls en route to a quadruple-bogey seven on Sawgrass' 17th hole is the same Sergio who has zero career Major championships to Tiger's 14; who has eight career wins in 251 US Tour starts to Tiger's 78 wins in 300 starts; who has now been schooled by Tiger seven of seven times when paired together on a weekend.

Make no mistake, there have been glorious moments in El Nino's career: stirring Ryder Cup performances, and a Players Championship among them.

But after his double-rinse job on No. 17 Sunday afternoon, when both he and Tiger were 13-under on the leaderboard, you have to start wondering: Has any athlete in history been so thoroughly dominated by another in parallel career paths?

Tiger's decimation of Sergio in both wins and glory, and especially in psychological terms, has been something singular to behold. Even two other foils of Tiger's – Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els – have broken through to stake some turf, with Lefty winning four Majors in the post-2000 Tiger Era, and the Big Easy taking two (the 2002 Open, and 2012 Open).

That this all took place on the weekend where Sergio and Tiger aired their dirty laundry made Sergio's crushing fall almost poetic.

By now, you heard the tale of Saturday's third round, in which Sergio claimed Tiger pulled a club from his bag just as Sergio's backswing peaked, causing a crowd roar that Sergio blamed for his poor shot. And Sergio revived all the old memories – the over-celebration at Bighorn in 2000, the complaints about Tiger getting breaks at the 2002 US Open – when he told the media he blamed Tiger for the breach of etiquette. And surely you heard Tiger fire back, dryly: "Not surprising he's complaining about something." And surely you heard Sergio say on Saturday night: "At least I'm true to myself … he's not my favorite guy on Tour … he's not the nicest guy on Tour … we don't enjoy each other's company."

Gossip! Sergio and Tiger go public with mutual hatred! And to have them tied after the third round, playing for the richest purse on Tour! In his Ponte Vedra office, Tim Finchem cackled, rubbed his hands together and said to his secretary: "Get me NBC on the phone … tell them 'The Ratings Meister' is calling."

It was perfect that they were dueling on the day we all celebrate maternity, too – since each player's favourite word for the other includes the word "mother."

So the stage was set for Sergio to come through, to do something. He had overcome a slump from 2009-11 and won last year for the first time since the 2008 Players. He'd logged six top-20s this year entering Sawgrass. And now he was essentially calling out Tiger, doing everything short of challenging him to a fight after eighth-grade algebra class behind the faculty parking lot.

Tiger was in the penultimate pairing; Sergio in the final pairing. Sergio would have the red shirt within his eyesight all day Sunday. And when Tiger, stunningly, snap-hooked his tee shot on 14 into the water for a double bogey, watching his two-shot lead evaporate, Sergio seemed imbued with strength. He walked with a pace, birdied 16 and came to the 17th tee all knotted up on the leaderboard with his mortal enemy.

And then … splash. And splash again. And a career's worth of doubt in the face of Tiger, inadequacy in the face of Tiger, lameness in the face of Tiger came rushing back. Just like that.

Put another way, he'd rolled into the Sawgrass parking lot Sunday morning blasting Tom Petty's "Won't Back Down" at full volume. He then rolled out of the Sawgrass parking lot late Sunday evening with the words 'JUST SHAMED' soaped across his rear window.

Afterward, he tried to sound philosophical, spending a generous amount of time with the media. Sergio said he under-hit it, overestimated his adrenaline, and "that hole has been good to me. Today, it wasn't. It's the way it is."

But as the session with the media wore on, Sergio admitted his Saturday evening nyah-nyah session with Tiger was "a little bit" of a distraction. And then, when another question came, Sergio bristled: "It sounds like I was the bad guy. I was the victim."

And there you had it. The career-defining line, on a career-defining day, after a career-defining hole for poor Sergio Garcia, the dogged victim of inexorable fate, and so much more.