Tiger Woods enters the weekend of The Players Championship in control of his game, as comfortable as he has ever been on a golf course that has historically given him fits and one stroke back of erstwhile adversary, Sergio Garcia.
With Woods up 14 majors to none over the winner of their long-ago made-for-TV exhibition, the two old pros enjoy a "rivalry" as lopsided as that between the Yankees and Red Sox, pre-2004. But the 30-somethings (Tiger’s only four years older than the 33-year-old Garcia) certainly have a history, which started at the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah and will continue in Saturday’s third round at TPC Sawgrass.
"I don’t have to measure myself against anybody," Garcia told reporters after firing a 7-under 65 in Friday’s second round.
Maybe not, but everyone else does, and El Nino has come up short in each official head-to-head contest with Woods. Paired together in 19 rounds over 12 events, Tiger has (according to Golf Channel) won eight, outscored Garcia (an average of 69.84 to 71.95) and tallied just four over-par rounds to Garcia’s 11. Tiger's also 6-0 against Sergio when the two go at it on the weekend, with Woods winning all six events.
Garcia, in the opinion of Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee, has been one of the primary casualties of the Tiger Woods era.
"Beginning with that golf tournament in 1999 until the 2002 U.S. Open, I think it’s fair to say that Tiger Woods psychologically emasculated his closest competitors," Chamblee said Friday night. "I think that it, for a while, not only damaged most of them, but certainly Sergio Garcia."
With Woods declaring himself happy "with every facet" of his game -- driving, iron play, distance control, short game and putting -- Garcia could be in for more of the same from his elder, who has been known to take names and hold grudges. Sergio earned a special place on Tiger’s take-down list after he treated his meaningless victory in the 2000 "Battle at Bighorn" over a tired, flu-ridden Woods as if it were the Masters. Then there was the final round of the 2006 British Open, the last time the duo went at each other, when Woods blew Garcia away.
Saturday could result in a different ending and a new beginning for the eight-time tour winner from Spain. While he and Woods share just two Players Championship trophies between them (Tiger in 2001, Sergio in 2008), Garcia has also played the Stadium Course this week as if it were his private playground. He added that 65, which included a string of five-straight birdies on holes two through six, to Thursday’s 68.
"Any given day, I can shoot a round like this, and any other day he can shoot a good round and beat me," said Garcia. "There are going to be good days and not-so-good days, so you’ve just got to enjoy the good ones as much as possible."
Yes, but Woods has bent TPC Sawgrass to his will as well, shooting a pair of 67s to remain one birdie putt back of Garcia’s 11-under.
"Even though I haven’t played well here in the past, I’ve still won here," said Woods, who chalked up a W in the 1994 U.S. Amateur before he won The Players. "I know how to get around this golf course."
Game on, gentlemen.