In 2012, Sergio Garcia famously told the media that he was incapable of winning a major.
Quoth the Spaniard, "I'm not good enough, I don't have the thing I need to have."
When the startled press asked him what exactly he meant by that, he responded, "In 13 years I have come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."
It was a shocking admission of psychological frailty but not an altogether ill-fitting one. After all, Garcia was coming off a Sunday collapse at Augusta National, and at the time he had gone 13 straight majors without a top-five finish.
That streak now stands at 16.
When Garcia missed cuts at last year's British Open and PGA Championship, the quote began to sound more and more like a career epitaph. Garcia was asking us to write him off. His play said the same thing.
And so we did.
But what if it wasn't the epitaph? What if it was just a passing existential crisis caught on tape? What if Sergio Garcia is still good at golf? After Garcia shot a six-under 66 on Thursday at the Masters to take the Day 1 lead, those questions suddenly feel more pertinent.
Each birdie putt was a reminder of what the man has accomplished (17 top-10 major finishes, No. 2 world ranking in 2008) and where he stands now (No. 16 in the world, a tour win as recently as last August).
All the facts say Garcia is world-class, a name to be mentioned among the second or third tier of major contenders. The facts say Garcia is as good a player presently as Charl Schwartzel, Graeme McDowell, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson or any number of past major champions.
That's what makes his performance at Augusta Thursday so difficult to process. The man is telling us he can't win this tournament. Everything else says he can.
Sergio on Augusta: "Obviously it's not my most favorite place, but you know, we try to watch it as much as we can each time we come here."— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) April 12, 2013
With respect to Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Tianlang Guan, Garcia is the most intriguing figure in the tournament field right now. The longer he stays in front, the more so he becomes. If you could somehow forget his many past failures, or the early years when he looked like the sport's future, or his biting nihilism, you'd say he was a very good 33-year-old golfer.
The problem is we've been taught to value the intangible. We've been told that a person must be firm in his or her convictions and convinced of his or her abilities in order to succeed. Every coach, teacher, guidance counselor, poster and cliche has said that there exists something beyond skill—something invisible, internal that separates good from great.
And here comes this man, Sergio Garcia, who insists he doesn't have it. He is as convinced of its existence as he is of its elusiveness. What if that man wins his first major championship on the same course that broke him one year earlier?
Would it mean that Garcia somehow conquered, captured or co-opted the thing he once said he lacked? Or would it mean that it never existed at all?