Sergio Garcia burst onto the scene in the late 90's. He showed us flashes of flair reminiscent of a young Seve Ballesteros. Sergio had a deft short game and a knack for making the amazing shot. Nobody will forget Sergio bounding up the fairway after his cut 6-iron from behind a tree at the 1999 PGA Championship.
Now Sergio has honed in his ball striking. He ranked first in GIR this year hitting over 70% of his greens. But somewhere, amid his ball striking improvements, Sergio forgot how to putt. Of course he can putt, but he can't do it like he did when he first came on Tour. That is an undeniable fact. So where does this leave him? Read on to find out.
Sergio's Putting is Terrible Now
The numbers are pretty ugly. Sergio is 196th in putts per GIR or putting average (PA) and is 197th in putts per round. He is virtually at the bottom of the list in both stats where no other big name is to be found. You have to go all the way up to 173 to find anyone of significance (Mike Weir, who also saw quite a downfall in putting - and world ranking - this year). There were only a few players on Tour that might be considered worse.
This poor putting was evidenced in two tournaments. First was the Wachovia Championship. After putting very well for the entire tournament, Sergio three-putted on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff from 45 feet, missing a 6-footer for par. This was after squandering a six-shot lead. When the pressure came, Sergio flinched.
The second tournament was the British Open. Sergio hit almost 80% of the greens and 66% of the fairways, striking the ball extremely well throughout the tournament. The putting is what killed him though. Even though he hit a ton of greens, Sergio nearly averaged two putts on each of those greens. Tiger won the tournament, but hit less greens than Sergio but nearly a quarter less strokes per GIR hit. Averaged over the entire tournament, this is a huge difference… and the one that mattered.
Sergio Relies Totally on His Ball Striking
He finished first this year in GIR and 38th in total driving. Combining the two, you get the "Ball Striking" statistic, in which Garcia finished 11th. Clearly he is having no problems hitting the ball. There are no other stats that would give any reason for Sergio to finish in the top 10 in earnings this year.
There are two things that impress me about this. First, when he first got on Tour, Sergio did not hit many GIR. In fact, he was 176th on Tour in that stat. To go from 179th to first is quite a feat. Second, is that he finished in the top 10 on the money list in spite of his putting. This just shows how important GIR is. Putting is important too, but there are none of the top 10 in the bottom of that stat, I can assure you.
Sergio Has Putted Well in the Past
When Sergio was struggling with hitting greens early on in his career, he relied on different aspects of his game. Sergio was third in total driving and 12th in sand save percentage. He was a more balanced player. Sergio just wasn't hitting a lot of greens.
What he did especially well was putt. He was fourth in the big putting stats, PA and putts per round. As fast as he rose up the GIR charts, he went south like a duck in winter in putting. While I'm sure this is disappointing to Sergio, I tend to see a silver lining. He has the skill to putt great. He knows that. Sergio has to find the element to his game that is killing him right now. I would be more concerned if he never showed any promise on the green, but this isn't the case. Sergio can do it again.
Putting Sergio + Greens Sergio = Simply Deadly
I think that Sergio could put himself up with Woods, Singh, Mickelson, and the others if he finds his putting stroke again. If you look at the two tournaments where he was putting the best this year, it was also his two best finishes. Sergio won the Booz-Allen Clasic and, as I talked about earlier, finished tied for second after going to a playoff in the Wachovia. Even if you go back to 2004, the same can be said. Sergio's two wins (Buick and the Byron Nelson) came when his putting was hot. His two other best putting tournaments? Those were his two highest finishes after the wins.
This is an easy prediction and easy to see why Sergio hasn't quite crossed into the upper-echelon of players I mentioned before. All of the elite players don't have a glaring weakness. Sure there are struggles from time to time, but not as bad and glaring as Sergio's putting. This is the only area I'll be evaluating Sergio in. If he starts out the year putting well, it could be a sign that it could get crowded at the top.
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