For years, fans have been quipping that they could out-putt Sergio Garcia with their eyes closed.
Turns out, Sergio had the same thought.
Using an unorthodox “eyes closed” putting style, with the intention to play the greens more on “feel”, the 40-year-old Spanish legend had his best week on the PGA Tour in years, winning the Sanderson Farms Championship by one stroke over Peter Malnati, and snapping a PGA Tour winless streak that dated back to the 2017 Masters.
A regular since bursting onto the Tour scene at the 1999 PGA Championship, Sergio now has 11 career PGA Tour victories among 31 worldwide victories.
Winning isn’t new for him, but this triumph at the Country Club of Jackson, the fourth event of the new 2020-21 PGA Tour wraparound season, comes at an especially refreshing time. Garcia had made news before the week for an unfortunate reason, as a recent slump knocked him out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time since 2011.
In his past 20 starts, a T5 at last June’s RBC Classic was his only finish of better than 32nd. He missed the cut in both his 2021 starts coming into the week, and played the recent two majors (PGA Championship, U.S. Open) at a combined 21-over, not making either weekend. He just has not been the Sergio that finished the 2008 season at World No. 2, and had been in the top 5 as recently as August of 2017. He was 51st heading into the Sanderson.
Something apparently clicked in Jackson, Mississippi, though. Sergio had never played the Sanderson Farms Championship before, and was able to take advantage of a weaker field which had only two top-40 ranked players (No. 24 Sungjae Im and No. 30 Scottie Scheffler). He was basically the event headliner despite being so out of form.
As successful as Sergio has been in his career as a whole, he is notorious for awful putting. He finished last season ranked 187th on Tour in strokes gained: putting, and has ranked better than 162nd just once in the past five seasons (he was “only” 114th in 2019).
This week, though? A different story.
Using his blind method, which he claims to have done off-and-on for years, he finished the week a respectable 28th in the field in that statistic, and was especially strong on Sunday, gaining 1.8 strokes on the field. Combined with his usual elite shotmaking, he was a force to be reckoned with. He keeps alive a streak where he has at least one win worldwide in every calendar year since 2010.
At 14-under through three rounds, Sergio shared the 54-hole lead with Cameron Davis and J.T. Poston. Surprisingly, though, his biggest threat came from Malnati, who teed off an hour-and-a-half before the leaders. The 33-year-old, who had his only career victory at this event during the 2016 season, was on absolute fire with his putter and shot a 9-under 63 to get into the clubhouse at 18-under.
A two-man playoff looked likely after Sergio had a disappointing par on 17, and with the difficult 18th hole ahead. He made a playoff unnecessary with a pristine approach to within three feet of the hole, and calmly made the short birdie putt to seal the win. He shot a Sunday 5-under 67 to reach 19-under for the week.
At solo-second, Malnati secured his first top-10 in an individual event since January of 2016. Poston contended on the final day, but an untimely bogey on 16 left him in solo-third, three strokes back of Garcia.
Final Top 10 Leaders
Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Sergio Garcia -19 (-5)
2. Peter Malnati -18 (-9)
3. J.T. Poston -16 (-2)
4. Henrik Norlander -15 (-7)
4. Keegan Bradley -15 (-3)
6. Scott Stallings -14 (-5)
6. Tyler McCumber -14 (-3)
6. Charley Hoffman -14 (-3)
6. Denny McCarthy -14 (-2)
6. Kristoffer Ventura -14 (-1)
6. Cameron Davis -14 (E)
Final Stat Leaders
Driving: 315.5 yards – Charley Hoffman (T6)
Fairways: 75% – Corey Conners (T17)
Greens: 83.3% – Sergio Garcia (1)
Putts/GIR: 1.560 – Brandt Snedeker (T17)
Scoring: 25 – Henrik Norlander, (3 Eagles, 19 Birdies) (T4), Maverick McNealy (1 Eagle, 23 Birdies) (T17)
How Sergio Garcia Won The Sanderson Farms Championship
To be consistently elite, Sergio Garcia needed to at least be passable on the greens while maintaining the rest of his game and he did that this week in Mississippi. He got into contention early with a opening pair of 68s, and a third-round 66 got him into the final Sunday pairing. He then posted his third consecutive round of a number not more than what he shot the day prior. He was the only player in the field to shoot all four of his rounds in the 60s.
His Sunday 67 had two shots that especially changed this tournament. In addition to the approach on 18, his approach on the par-5 14th from 171 yards barely cleared a bunker and landed 3.5 feet from the hole, which he converted for eagle.
Garcia bogeyed two holes on Sunday, 6 and 8, and both times he birdied the very next hole. That resilience was a microcosm of his week.
His 22 birdies, with at least five in each round, tied for second in the field for the week. He only offset five of those with bogeys, which ranked fourth.
He led the field in strokes gained: off-the-tee, strokes gained: tee-to-green, and strokes gained: total. He also led in greens in regulation, hitting 83% for the week. He was third in strokes gained: approach the green, and finished negatively (barely) only around the greens.
Sergio’s Winning Stats
Driving: 305.5 yards (9th)
Fairways: 60.7% (34/56) (14th)
Greens: 83.3% (60/72) (1st)
Putting: 1.647 (10th)
Birdies: 22 (2nd)
Scores: 1 Eagle, 22 Birdies, 44 Pars, 5 Bogeys
What It Means For Sergio
It ends a slump for a formerly top-notch player, and that confidence alone could be huge going forward. Since winning the green jacket in 2017, Sergio Garcia has been a disaster in the majors, with nine missed cuts in 12 starts, and nothing better than a T21.
As amazingly talented as he is, there has always been the perception that he has underachieved in majors. This could give him a second life at 40.
Last season, Sergio missed the FedExCup playoffs entirely, which is shocking given his history. Unfortunately, the Sanderson Farms Championship has rarely been a factor in the FedExCup race. A year ago, Sebastian Munoz became the first Sanderson Farms winner to even make the Tour finale at East Lake, and he was, by far, the lowest ranking player in the field. Sergio will be hoping to make it two for the last two.
He has also given himself considerable margin of error to stay back in the top 50 of the OWGR, where he is comfortable.
Sergio’s 2021 Season
Wins: 1 (Sanderson Farms)
Money: 83.3% (4th)
FedExCup: 500 (4th)
OWGR Start/Now: 51/38
Peter Malnati had the best Sunday round by two strokes, and his reaction (laughing hard) at Sergio Garcia’s epic approach on 18 probably won him some fans. Malnati rose 12 spots up the leaderboard from T14 to solo-second with his stellar, bogey-free Sunday. The world No. 312 gave himself considerable FedExCup leeway with the performance, jumping to 7th in the early standings.
In his career, he has been Sergio’s opposite: struggling badly from tee to green, but excelling in the short game. On Sunday, he gained more than five strokes on the field with his putter alone, and 7.6 shots total.
One of the second best rounds came from Sweden’s Henrik Norlander, who has consistently put himself on a fair share of leaderboards as of late. With a final-round 7-under 65, he rose from T22 to T4, posting his best finish since a T6 at this past summer’s Memorial Tournament at difficult Muirfield Village.
Stewart Cink, at the ripe age of 47, won the season-opening Safeway Open, and added another fantastic result at Jackson, matching Norlander’s 65 and finishing T12. He has had his son on the bag since the season opener, but said he would need at least a top-5 to replace his usual caddie, one of the more popular ones in Kip Henley.
A 20-spot jump from T43 to T20 for Colombia’s Camilo Villegas, was highly popular for the 4-time Tour Champion who has struggled badly the past several seasons, and recently lost a young daughter to cancer. His 6-under 66 was his best round on Tour in more than three years.
Cameron Davis found himself in a three-way tie for the lead going into Sunday, but difficulties at the beginning left him out of the championship picture. The Aussie bogeyed 4, 7, and 9 to make the turn at 2-over, and despite a bogey-free back-nine never found himself back in. He shot an even-par 72 to finish T6.
Brandt Snedeker, a nine-time Tour winner and former FedExCup champion, was just one stroke out of the lead heading into round four, but was unable to conjure up his previous success, struggling late and shooting a 1-over 73 to drop from T4 to T17.
Snedeker has not finished inside the top 40 since a T22 last February.
The worst round of the day came from big-hitting J.B. Holmes, who was a complete disaster on Sunday. Holmes was even-par through seven, but then had six bogeys and a triple on his way to a 9-over 81 to plummet 34 spots from T31 to 65. Only two worse rounds were shot the entire week, and they were both by players who missed the cut by a mile.
“Just Keep Believing… Keep Working Hard!”
“I think it’s just keep believing, keep working hard, just got to get it right there, your mind right. I think my whole team has been behind me trying to help me in every way they can. I’ve also been able to find a couple things here and there that obviously have helped and it’s great. It felt great to be able to stand there on 18 and just rip a nice draw and hit a great 8-iron like I did and make a putt.”
– Sergio Garcia