There's no shame in splashing short of TPC Sawgrass's iconic 17th, as Sergio Garcia did yesterday (twice!). Better players have found the drink in the past, and will in the future. But it's hard to beat Garcia's meltdown for pathos, because of history both ancient and recent.
You couldn't have asked for a better Sunday evening finish. Garcia heading into 17, tied with Woods, a group ahead. The two had been playing partners the day before, when Woods pulled a club from his bag as Garcia was over his ball. The crowd cheered, Garcia sliced into the trees, and would later blame Woods for distracting him.
It was a minor infraction, and Garcia made it clear that his feud with Woods goes a lot deeper than this weekend.
"I'm not going to lie. He's not my favorite guy to play with. He's not the nicest guy on tour...We don't enjoy each other's company. You don't have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out.''
("Rocket engineer" is Spanish for "rocket scientist.")
When Garcia stepped to 17, he probably couldn't have been more confident. It's a hole he'd birdied four of the last eight times he's played it. It's the the site of his greatest professional triumph, a 2008 playoff win over Paul Goydos at The Players Championship. In that showdown, Garcia stuck the ball within four feet of the hole. So he can't be blamed for thinking this was his chance to pull ahead of Woods, a better chance than on 18, or in a playoff.
So instead of going left, going safe and playing for par, he went right at the hole.
Garcia would quadruple-bogey the hole, find the water again on 18, and finish six shots back of Tiger.
It's not a choke, or a callback to the usual cultural touchstones: Jean van de Velde and Tin Cup. It's one bad shot—Garcia said he was feeling the adrenaline and was afraid of overshooting the green. Instead he underhit it, and that was that. (His second attempt to go right at the pin was necessary—he needed to hole it in four to have any chance.)
But golf drama is 90 percent backstory, and this is Sergio Garcia, with another disappointment in a career of disappointments, pitching into the pond just yards away and minutes behind the man he's always chasing. His early hype was a fluke of timing—Garcia had the misfortune of being a promising young player at a time the golf world wanted a foil for Tiger Woods's unchecked dominance. Out of context, this tournament came down to one crippling shot, on an afternoon when Woods stayed clean. In context, being unable to avoid that one crippling shot on any given afternoon is why Garcia's greatest victory remains a 2008 Players Championship—and Woods is now just four back of Sam Snead for the most PGA Tour wins of all time.