The mutual disdain between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia erupted this past weekend at the 2013 Players Championship, but the animosity—hatred even—between the two has been boiling just below the surface for over 13 years.
What likely started as two bruised egos as far back as 2000 has grown so much over the years that neither Garcia nor Woods could keep their dislike for each other in the shadows following the much-publicized dust-up during and after the third round of The Players Championship.
Other Marshals have since come out to declare that Tiger did not lie in the matter, but no matter whose side you're on, Sergio didn't like what went down, Tiger wouldn't apologize for it, and now their feud is the biggest story heading into the remaining tournaments in 2013.
The two first tussled on the course in the exciting 1999 PGA Championship, as the 19-year-old Spanish "teen dream" challenged the 23-year-old rising star. It went down to the wire, and Garcia lost by a single stroke.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Alan Shipnuck wondered, "What was the most electric moment of Sunday's back nine, anyway? Was it the mischievous glare Garcia gave Woods after making a long birdie putt at the par-three 13th, which announced the beginning of El Nino's comeback?"
In response, Garcia was quoted as saying, "I mean, I did it with good feelings, not hoping he would make a triple bogey or whatever. I was kind of telling him: If you want to win, you have to play well."
It seems to have begun as playful competition, but if several media reports are accurate, the poisoning of the Tiger and Sergio relationship happened in 2000, when the two played against each other in a made-for-television match.
Jason Whitlock @WhitlockJason
My column on the wussification of sports. Tiger and Sergio http://t.co/fv2mpTADNA5/14/2013, 2:46:44 PM
It was dubbed the “Battle at Bighorn,” and Woods had to personally approve Garcia as his opponent beforehand. Sergio not only won the matchup, but he also celebrated to excess, which angered Tiger.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer of Sports Illustrated, observed that Garcia had, "celebrated as if he had won the California lottery."
In the years following that encounter, Woods won numerous majors, and Sergio won nothing, yet he still persisted at pulling Tiger’s tail.
It might seem like a small thing, but we all know that once you make Tiger’s list, it’s really, really hard to get off of it. For his part, Sergio didn't even try. In fact, he did quite the opposite.
In the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, play had been suspended after a rain-filled second round. Sergio whined to the media that had Woods been playing during the heavy downpour, the powers that be would have suspended play immediately instead of continuing.
The two had another awkward encounter at the 2006 British Open. An emotional Tiger—fresh off the loss of his father two months earlier—entered the final round a stroke ahead of Garcia and proceeded to best him by six shots en route to his 11th major.
Garcia was dressed all in yellow that day, and according to Ryan Lavner of GolfChannel.com, "Afterward, Woods reportedly texted a friend: 'I just bludgeoned Tweety Bird.'"
Before the 2006 Ryder Cup matches, Garcia taunted Tiger yet again, remarking that he would welcome playing him several times over the weekend because of his questionable career record in the international team event.
It’s well-documented that Woods is a results-oriented guy. He measures success by wins—not commercials, not Twitter followers and certainly not photo shoots. So when a player such as Sergio—who, to put it nicely, is more style than substance—calls him out multiple times, it’s not going to sit well.
Likewise, it couldn't possibly be lost on Garcia that Tiger doesn't exactly respect his career arch, and for a player of his stature, that can’t be something he can take lightly. Compounding the matter is the fact Woods has bested Sergio three times down the stretch of a major championship—twice from the same pairing and with little trouble.
Bottom line, fair or not, Sergio’s career track has been compared to that of Tiger’s, and the comparison has been anything but friendly to the Spaniard. Following their 1999 PGA battle at Medinah Golf Club, Garcia was billed as the likely rival for Woods, and the hunger for that feud on the golf course was tantalizing.
Woods has lived up to his share of the bargain, winning 14 major championships and 78 PGA Tour events to date. Sergio, simply, has not.
With any feud, it’s the actions and results—not the words and the taunts—that settle the score. By that measure, it was another Tiger victory this weekend at the Players Championship. Playing a group behind Sergio, Woods recovered from a double bogey on the 14th hole that erased a two-shot lead over Garcia with a much-needed birdie on 16.
Sergio equaled Tiger’s birdie with his own on the par five, but he needed to par 17 and 18 to force a playoff. Rather than follow words with action, Garcia imploded yet again with a quadruple bogey on the par-three 17th that allowed Tiger the last word—written with his swing rather than his mouth.
It’s fitting, really, that TPC serves as the anatomy of the Woods-Garcia rivalry. Sergio prods and pokes Tiger with cutting comments off the course that garner headlines and cause controversy. Woods, in turn, responds by carving up Garcia on the golf course and then dismissing him.
Until that dynamic changes and Garcia forces mutual respect from Woods by beating him on the golf course with something substantial on the line, the animosity will continue. Woods will see Garcia the way he has all along—talent gone unrealized. Garcia will view Woods as he always has—a jerk with a rotten disposition.
That said, it’s been a long time coming for a golfer to stand toe-to-toe with Woods on the golf course the way Sergio is willing to off it. Sound bites, however, don’t make rivalries—well-placed shots do. Sergio wasn't up to the task a decade ago, and Tiger moved on.
It’s a feud that is equal parts who they are, what they have accomplished and, quite frankly, what they haven’t.
Woods is the quiet assassin on the golf course who sees opponents as roadblocks to his ultimate goal. He has unbelievable expectations to live up to, and he assesses accomplishments in black and white: Winning is everything, and second place is first loser.
By contrast, Sergio doesn't seem to be consumed by winning the way Woods is.
That is not to say Garcia doesn't want to win, just that he is more of a golf artist. He appreciates the beauty of the game and the artistry of shot-making as much as any player since his idol and fellow countryman, Seve Ballesteros. Because of that, it can be suggested he sees other golfers as equals in a competition that should be enjoyed.
Those dueling characteristics mixed with competitive fire this past week and took the Sergio-Tiger feud from the shadows into the light. And frankly, it was a long time coming.
Now, the question is whether a decade-plus of experience and another devastating setback suffered at the hands of his rival will change things for Garcia. Will Sergio continue to play the victim, or will he use motivation to put his game where his mouth is?
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