An Unlikely Par: Garcia Advances to TOUR Championship

Posted by: mike September 19th, 2017

By Jeff Shain

Golf Insiders contributor

 

Had this been a typical midsummer PGA Tour event, Sergio Garcia might have taken the quick penalty, the likely bogey, and been content with a top-20 finish.

But the BMW Championship isn’t the usual midsummer fare. And though the green jacket now in Garcia’s possession guarantees a lifetime pass to Augusta, he had another Georgia trip on his mind as he stared at his ball sitting up in a small brook next to Conway Farms’ 18th green.

The Spaniard hadn’t qualified for the Tour Championship in three years. And if it took another 20 minutes to sort things out brookside, so be it.

“If I would have made (bogey) 6, then I would have had a bigger chance of not getting to Atlanta,” Garcia told reporters after getting up-and-down from atop a rock that became his point of relief from a greenside grandstand.

The par was enough to get Garcia to East Lake, rising to 25th on the FedExCup points chart after starting the week outside the golden 30.

“It was one of those real wacky, bizarre situations which don’t happen very often,” said Stephen Cox, the PGA Tour rules official who oversaw the sequence. “But totally within the confines of the rules. Sergio was fantastic throughout.”

And, yes, the process did take more than 20 minutes to play out.Sergio Garcia

“It was an important moment,” Garcia said. “I wanted to do what was best for me at the time, and obviously (do it) within the rules. That’s what we did.”

At play is the grandstand’s classification as a temporary immovable obstruction. Every week on tour, a handful of players are granted free relief when their balls nestle too close to the grandstand.

In Garcia’s case, though, it was in a water hazard. And though a rock prevented Garcia from playing a shot toward the hole, there was an option to play one into the rock that would ricochet back toward the green.

Hey, creativity is part of the beauty of the game.

“We’ve done it on the 17th hole at St. Andrews, where you chip it into the (bordering) wall and then it bounces back nicely if you get a little bit of loft,” Garcia said.

“It wasn’t an easy shot, but I knew I could probably hit it hard enough and make good contact. Hit the rock and hopefully come straight (back) – and probably goes into the grandstand behind the green.”

It was Cox’s role to determine whether that was a reasonable play.

“We’re talking about one of the greatest shotmakers of all time,” Cox said. “I’ve seen these ricochets take place. In this situation, I felt that it wasn’t completely unreasonable. So on that basis he got relief.”

Garcia still had to play from the hazard, though, which became a dicey proposition because of the rocks. Two drops produced two sharp caroms, allowing the Spaniard to place the ball atop the flattest rock possible.

From there, Garcia’s third shot eventually bounced through the green. A chip and a putt later, he finished off a 69, tied for 12th and locked in his reservation to East Lake.

“It was one of the goals for the year, to get to Atlanta,” Garcia said. “Obviously my game hasn’t been amazing the last two months. I felt some good things (happening) this week.”

In a touch of irony, the man standing off to the side as all this was going on was Phil Mickelson, another of the game’s more creative minds. If the delay bothered him, he didn’t let on – even sharing a laugh with Garcia as they finally left the 18th green.

“I was thinking this is what my playing partners go through most of the time,” Mickelson said. “I was just on other end of it. I've been on his side of it a lot.”

Said Garcia: “Because the grandstands are there, and the rules are there, I was able to take relief from it. And it kind of worked out well for me.”

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Jeff Shain is a former Orlando Sentinel golf writer, part of nearly two decades covering the sport that includes other stops at The Miami Herald and The Island Packet in South Carolina. He's also a digital contributor to PGATour.com and Pro Golf Weekly, and co-hosts the Prime Sports Golf podcast at PrimeSportsNetwork.com.