Major Big Deal For Sergio


For once, Sergio's putter was his best friend and not his nemisis.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Sergio Garcia, the best player without a major, got the next best thing Sunday.

Garcia ended the longest victory drought of his career by making a clutch par putt to force a playoff and hitting the island-green 17th on the first extra hole to defeat Paul Goydos in The Players Championship.

Haunted by putting problems that kept him without a victory the past three years and 53 PGA Tour events, Garcia came up with a 45-foot birdie on the 14th to get back in the game and a 7-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a 1-under 71.

Goydos, playing in the final group, missed a 15-foot par putt on the last hole for the win. He closed with a 74.

It was the first playoff at The Players since 1987, and the first time the PGA Tour opted to start it on the most notorious par 3 in golf. The shot was only 128 yards, but in wind that blasted 30 mph throughout the day, to a green surrounded by water.

What a bad coincidence for Goydos -- he was the first to hit into the water when the tournament began Thursday, and the last player to go into the water at the worst time. His wedge came up short, and when Goydos saw the splash, he looked to the sky.

Garcia still faced the pressure of finding land, and his wedge hit the middle of the green and rolled to 4 feet. He missed the birdie putt, the one time it didn't matter. He could have taken three putts from there and still won.

Goydos wound up making double bogey, the end of a dream week in which his dry humor and honest perspective finally had an audience.

"It's been a lot of work," Garcia said, clutching the crystal trophy. "It feels like the last three years I've been playing well. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to come around and win. This week, I played so nicely. It felt like everything was so hard. I'm just thrilled the week is over and I managed to finish on top."

Garcia and Goydos finished at 5-under 283.

The 28-year-old Spaniard, whose seven PGA Tour victories are the most by players under age 30, earned $1.71 million from the richest purse in golf and again enters the conversation as a major contender with the U.S. Open a month away.

In the first playoff of his 16-year career, Goydos was extraordinarily gracious in a defeat so difficult that he tripped over his words.

He patted Garcia on the back as they walked to the island green, congratulating him.

And he offered no excuses.

"Look at the shot Sergio hit in the playoff," Goydos said. "I got beat. I played good golf. That doesn't mean you win. There's no defense. I can't tackle the little guy. There's no knee-capping. You have to accept the guy beat me.

"They key is to have the lead with no holes to go."

The consolation for Goydos was $1.026 million for second place, more than he earned for winning the Sony Open last year.

Jeff Quinney had a chance to join the playoff. He went bogey-free for 10 holes in gusts that topped 40 mph at times, but failed to save par from a bunker behind the 18th green and had to settle for a 70 and third place alone, one shot behind.

Garcia never needed a victory so badly.

He had a 10-foot putt to win the British Open at Carnoustie last summer, then lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington. No club troubled him more than the putter, and this week on the TPC Sawgrass was no exception.

Garcia took 124 putts in regulation, 18 more than Goydos.

But he sure came up big in the final round, rolling in a collection of par putts that kept him in the hunt, birdie putts that challenged Goydos and a par on the 18th hole that made this victory possible.

Playing for the first time in his career with a 54-hole lead, Goydos battled to keep it. He led by three shots with five holes to play until a two-shot swing on the 14th hole turned the final hour into a nail-biter.

Garcia, playing in the group ahead of Goydos, made a 45-foot birdie on the 14th. Goydos then hit an approach that was inches away from hitting the flag, but bounded over the green. He missed a 10-foot par putt, then missed a par putt from 7 feet on the next hole.

Goydos regained the lead on the par-5 16th with a two-putt birdie from 60 feet on the fringe.

His drive on the 18th found the right rough, easy to do with the wind blasting across the fairway in that direction. He hacked out to 50 yards short of the green, about the same distance Garcia faced, but pitched short to 15 feet and missed the putt.

The wind was relentless, stronger than it had been all week, turning the Stadium Course into a terror.

It might have been worse except that tour officials did not cut the greens and applied a double dose of water. That didn't keep Jesper Parnevik from posting an 85, the highest score at TPC Sawgrass in five years. It was one of nine rounds in the 80s, but not the most damaging. Kenny Perry, who started the final round one shot behind, shot 81.

Defending champion Phil Mickelson knew what he was up against early. Walking from the putting green to the first tee, a gust blew his cap off his head and sent it tumbling into the pond. Lefty hooked his opening tee shot into a mound and three-putted for double bogey, and his hopes of being the first repeat winner ended with a 3-foot birdie he missed on No. 11 and a tee shot into a palmetto bush on the 12th.

He closed with a 78.

Goydos overcame five bogeys with two unlikely birdies, a 50-footer on No. 4 and chipping in from 100 feet on No. 10. Garcia wouldn't go away, however, coming up with key putts for a chance, and one shot that only had to hit land.