Augusta can be a lonely place on Sunday at the Masters. Just ask Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington, who 20 months ago were throwing everything at each other as they came down the stretch with the US PGA on the line at Oakland Hills.
As the principal actors in the drama entered centre stage on the back nine of what promised to be one of the most thrilling Masters finales in years, the European superstars were battling demons of their own.
Garcia made the cut with one to spare but after a closing 78, only Australia’s Nathan Green was ranked behind him in the leaderboard.
Even Green had more reasons to smile than the Spaniard despite closing with a 75 to finish 48th of the 48 survivors on 14 over par. At the 16th, he holed a six iron from 176 yards for a hole-in-one and a sparkling piece of Waterford Crystal.
The Aussie’s joy contrasted with Garcia’s agonised expression as he walked away from Augusta National in such low spirits that you would wonder where he will find the strength to go on.
He made 17 birdies over the course of four rounds but also threw in 18 bogeys, three doubles and a triple bogey six on the par-three 12th. The nub of the matter is that he had 10 three putts in 72 holes - four of them coming on Sunday. Amazingly, things could have been even worse.
Playing the par-five second, his approach clocked an elderly lady on the forehead, drawing blood and she spent the rest of what should have been a memorable day in the ER clutching a TaylorMade golf ball that Garcia had sheepishly signed earlier.
The ball ricocheted into the fairway and Garcia managed to make his fourth birdie of the week on the par-five. But it was one of the few good things to happen to him.
“I have no idea what is going on,” a clearly distressed Garcia said at the finish. “It has nothing to do with no being sharp for the Masters. It is just my game is not good in general. I started badly and just got worse.
“At least I managed to finish with a birdie but I’ll wait until the end of year before I decide what I am going to do about my game. It’s just not working.”
As Phil Mickelson and KJ Choi tied for the lead on 12 under par heading down the fabled back nine, one clear of Lee Westwood, Harrington was slaving at the coal face, blasting drive after drive on the driving range under a searing sun.
Was that green striped polo shirt his Masters Sunday outfit? Who knows. Harrington was too busy going about his business to engage in idle chit chat.
He had been looking forward to his week at Augusta since last year’s final round of the US PGA at Hazeltine, where he took an eight on a par three.
This time disaster struck early. A opening 74 on the easiest course set up of the week forced him to open up on day two, when it was at its toughest. The result, predictably, was a 75.
Like Garcia, the Dubliner is something of a conundrum and as a player that gauges the state of his game by the way he performs at Augusta, this hurt more than he cared to say.
“This course has probably had more to do with the changes in my swing than any other,” he said earlier in the week. “The reason for this is that Augusta National is like an examination. I have been found out a number of times over the years and so I have gone away and used what I saw here to help me move forward as a player.”
Having said in Houston that a couple of ropey rounds would not chip away at his confidence, Harrington confessed that was simply not the case as he finished on Friday.
In fact, he admitted that he was not all that surprised that he failed to fire on all cylinders.
“I wouldn’t say that it surprised me. I played a bit like that in the last two rounds in Houston. If anything, I lost a bit of confidence in my game last weekend and when I didn’t start very well, that kind of showed up again. It wasn’t a surprise, no. I did good work this week sure I gave myself a chance and it just wasn’t there.”
Augusta is a punishing course that appears to operate on Murphy’s Law. When you least need of luck, golf balls find the cup. When you are chasing, it breaks your heart.
“I’d be in good spirits leaving. I hit a couple of errant shots early on yesterday and lost a bit of confidence and it was tough after that. I was always on the back foot after that.”
Tiger Woods was four off the pace starting the day and in his efforts to chase down the leaders, he made a couple of costly bogeys on the fourth and fifth when he most needed birdies. He was still four behind KJ Choi and Phil Mickelson on eight under par with eight holes to play.
As Harrington and Garcia know, Augusta will take before it gives.
“That is the tough part,” Harrington said of trying to make things happen at the Masters. “It is an interesting course. The harder you try, the tougher it gets. When it is important, you seem to get the wind changing or a gust in the wrong direction. It is one of those things. It is a real tough golf course when you are chasing.”