It was way back in 1999 when a teenager named Sergio Garcia made American golf fans shake their heads in wonder as he went stroke for stroke with Tiger Woods for the PGA Championship.
Garcia endeared crowds with his charm and the way he chased after a remarkable recovery shot he hit and performed a little scissors kick at the end. He lost to Tiger by a shot that day, but the verdict was unanimous: This was a 19-year-old Spaniard who would win multiple majors while owning a large part of the future of golf.
That was half a lifetime ago - almost exactly.
Garcia is now 37. He has tinges of gray in his hair. He is soon to be married. He has won 30 events around the world and made many millions.
But one thing has not changed.
Sergio Garcia still hasn’t won a major.
He has another chance this weekend at the Masters. With the tournament halfway done and the blustery conditions about to get much calmer, Garcia is tied for the lead with Charley Hoffman, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler - a final four that is all tied at 4-under par.
“Having a chance is the best thing,” Garcia said Friday afternoon. “And winning it - I'm sure it's amazing.”
‘I’m not good enough’
It would be amazing for Garcia to finally get his major, but it's far from a sure thing. He is 0-for-73 in golf's four major tournaments, a streak that has included four second-place finishes and 22 top 10s.
In a fit of tortured frustration in 2012, following a Saturday afternoon at the Masters where he played himself out of contention once again, Garcia told some members of the Spanish media that he didn't have what he needed to win a major.
“It's the reality -- I'm not good enough and now I know it,” Garcia said then, according to the Golf Channel's coverage at the time. “I don't know what happens to me. ...I will try to be second or third. ...You can live without a major.”
Yes, you certainly can. A lot of people manage quite well. But for Garcia, it is the biggest hole in a resume that mostly glitters. He insisted Friday that he believes he can win a major as those comments from five years ago were brought up again, as they inevitably will be until the time when and if he wins one.
“I was frustrated,” Garcia said of his 2012 comments. “But like I said before, I probably didn't accept things as well as I should have. And I've shown myself many times after that, that I can contend. And I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one.”
To get just one major, Garcia must have a better weekend then he usually has at the Masters. He has never shot below 70 in the third round at any Masters, but he has shot 75 or higher a staggering nine times (including an 81 just last year). Saturday is the day most golfers consider “Moving Day.” For Garcia, it has almost always been “Moving Backwards Day.”
But Garcia is playing well. He birdied the first three holes Friday and made what he called the best bunker shot of his life at No. 12 to save par.
If he gets to Sunday in contention, expect CBS to heavily promote the fact that Garcia could win on what would have been the late Seve Ballesteros' 60th birthday. Ballesteros was the first Spaniard to win the Masters.
A crowd favorite
There's a long way to go between now and the final nine holes on Sunday, though.
I have been fooled before by Garcia's shot-making into thinking he is a sure-fire bet to win a tournament. In 2005, he led what is now known as the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte by six strokes entering the final round. I started my column that morning with a proclamation: “Sergio Garcia has already won this golf tournament.”
It was not my finest moment.
It was not Garcia's, either.
He lost all of that six-shot lead, fell into a three-way playoff and lost to Vijay Singh.
So what will the weekend hold for Garcia? He has become a crowd favorite, and so he will be cheered with great ardor around Augusta National.
Whether or not Garcia will do anything deserving those great cheers? That is the real question. But it sure would be fun if he did.