PGA Championship Preview: Can Sergio Garcia Shake the Label?

Greg RiotAnalyst IAugust 12, 2009

CHASKA, MN - AUGUST 12:  Sergio Garcia of Spain waits on the practice ground during the third preview day of the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club on August 12, 2009 in Chaska, Minnesota.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Sergio Garcia has heard it all before, and it's happening again this week. Will he play four good rounds of golf, only to fall just a little short? Can he win one of those tournaments that people will actually remember fifty years from now?

Let's take a look at the numbers:

To Win PGA Championship
(Top 20 plus ties on list)

Tiger Woods +150
Phil Mickelson +1600
Pedraig Harrington +2000
Hunter Mahan +2500
Lee Westwood +2500
Retief Goosen +2500
Steve Stricker +2500
Stewart Cink +3000
Kenny Perry +3500
Angel Cabrera +4000
Anthony Kim +4000
Geoff Oglivy +4000
Henrik Stenson +4000
Jim Furyk +4000
Ross Fisher +4000
Vijay Singh +4000
Camilo Villegas +5000
Ernie Els +5000
Ian Poulter +5000
Luke Donald +5000
Zach Johnson +5000

Kenny Perry, who came close at the Masters, may be the top career money earner on the PGA Tour who has not won a major championship, but the title of "Best Golfer to Never Win a Major" may just belong to Sergio Garcia, who many people might assume has done it before. He seems to have been due for some time now, and he is listed at +3000 to win this week's PGA Championship at Hazeltine Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota.

Even though he has only had seven wins on the PGA Tour (in addition to eight on the European tour), Garcia has distinguished himself in majors, having gotten close a number of times. A decorated amateur who was always ticketed for greatness, he first made his presence known to fans in 1999, when, at the age of 19, he was the low amateur at the Masters, then followed that up later in the year - after turning pro - with the runner-up position in the PGA Championship, as he waged a battle against eventual winner Tiger Woods (+150 to win this year's PGA). In that tournament, he made a shot that will endure on highlight reels forever, hitting an almost impossible six-iron from the rough, against a tree trunk, around and over things, with his eyes closed, and followed that by a sprint into the fairway, complete with a scissor kick, to see what happened to it.

Garcia also finished second at the 2007 British Open and tied for second at last year's PGA. In 2002 he had a top ten finish in all four majors. All told, Garcia has had fifteen top ten showings in major championships, scored a victory at last year's Players Championship, and has played on five Ryder Cup teams, but has yet to taste victory in one of golf's four premier events. He has placed among the top three in three of the last ten years in the PGA Championship (and was tied for tenth at Hazeltine in 2002), so he certainly likes the kind of golf courses the tournament is played on.

As a ball-striker, famed coach Butch Harmon calls Garcia "One of the best in the game. I think putting in general has held him back, and once he fixes that, he will win majors."

Garcia has the tools to play well at Hazeltine. He is a long hitter, ranked 15th in driving distance on the Tour this year, checking in at just under 300 yards per drive (299.9). He ranks 174th in driving accuracy, but when you look at it, some of the names ranked below him make for a very formidable list of PGA contenders, people like Padraig Harrington (+2000 to win the PGA), Anthony Kim (+4000), Phil Mickelson (+1600) and Angel Cabrera (+4000). Like Harmon described, where Garcia has to really make up some ground is in his game on the green, where he averages 29.38 putts per round.

While Garcia says he is "proud of what I've done," there is no question that his inability to get it done on the game's biggest stages has to gnaw at him, the way it did Mickelson, who finally broke through in 2004 after a decade of high-level play. He started the year at #2 in the World Golf Rankings but was disappointing in the Masters and British Open, tying for 38th place in both. Can he overcome the crushing defeat to Harrington last year?

We wonder.