Casual golf fans who heard that Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods were in the final pairing on the weekend at a key PGA Tour event probably checked their calendars to see what year it was. It's 2013, and the veteran duo will battle atop the Players Championship leaderboard.
Both players are enjoying resurgent seasons, which should make for an interesting afternoon at TPC Sawgrass. Garcia holds a one-stroke edge heading into the third round. They tee off at 2:40 p.m. ET, with coverage being handled by NBC.
It's been 14 years since the two first played in the same group. One of the first times it happened came at the Masters in 1999, where they played two rounds together. Woods won the first, and they tied the second. Golf.com tweeted a picture of them from back then:
Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia at the 1999 Masters ... [AP] ... http://t.co/sFXsKfuS645/11/2013, 3:08:10 PM
The rivalry will be renewed on Saturday. Both players have reason to believe they are capable of surviving two more days on the tricky Sawgrass course to claim the trophy. But first they must survive the pressure of moving day.
Garcia, who's won just once on the PGA Tour since winning this event in 2008, has finished in the top 20 of every tournament he's finished in 2013. A final-round withdrawal from the Arnold Palmer Invitational––a Woods triumph––is the only blemish.
The 14-time major champion he's facing off against has been even better. He's won three of the five stroke-play starts he's made this season. The last time he played was at the Masters, where he came in a very respectable fourth.
Moreover, Woods once again sports the look of the best player in the world. He's back to the point where it's expected he will contend every time he plays, which would be an unreasonable expectation for every other player on tour. He's proven he can do it.
Woods enters the final pairing with the mental edge as well. He's dominated Garcia while playing in the same group throughout their careers. Bob Harig of ESPN provides the stats, which are very troublesome for the Spaniard:
Bob Harig @BobHarig
Tiger, Sergio to play in 3rd round. They've played 19 previous rounds on PGA Tour. TW is 12-3-4. Sergio broke 70 just 3 times. #Players5/10/2013, 11:12:05 PM
The storylines are endless, and that makes for great theater. Garcia attempting to overcome those demons against Tiger. His bid to reassert himself as a legitimate contender after some lackluster seasons. All it takes is one great round playing alongside an intimidating player like Woods to make a major statement.
On the flip side, Woods is trying to prove the intimidation factor is still alive and well. During his down period, the aura faded a bit. His recent play is starting to rebuild it. Another victory, at an event he's scored just one victory at (all the way back in 2001), would prove how far his game has come.
It's a classic matchup. Saturday will mark the 20th time they will tee it up in the same group.
Their careers have gone on different paths since arriving as talented rookies. Woods is now one of the best ever, while Garcia never reached the potential he flashed early.
But they aren't thinking about those past meetings or the historical significance, they are simply focused on winning the Players Championship. Both are in prime position to do exactly that after some terrific play over the first two days.
Now, they have to stare each other down for 18, or possibly 36, holes and see who blinks first. And there's a pack of players hoping the matchup causes them both to falter.
Turn back the clock and enjoy the round.