Diaz: Romero's Still Smiling

April 12, 2008

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Andres Romero is golf's new blithe spirit.

Many have held the title: John Daly after gripping and ripping Crooked Stick. Sergio Garcia after the scissor kick at Medinah. Jesper Parnevik, especially after a volcanic-ash colonic. But no one ever holds on to it for very long. The accumulated cruelties of the game and the jadedness that comes with the decadence of modern professional golf tend to end innocence sooner rather than later.

Romero, though, might have a long reign. That he was able to smile after the crazy bounce that took his ball out-of-bounds on the 71st hole of the British Open last year at Carnoustie, spoiling a magical round in which his 10 birdies in the previous 16 holes had given him the lead, showed a special resilience and optimism.

And so it was on Saturday after the 26-year-old from Tucuman, Argentina, missed a five-footer for birdie on the 18th after a killing double bogey on the par-3 16th. That one, which started with a pushed 7-iron into the death bunker for a right-hand pin, ended a stunning streak of four birdies in five holes that had tied Romero with playing partner Tiger Woods.

Finishing at two under for 36 holes, Romero had plenty of reason to be morose coming off the final green. Instead, he sported the same smile he wore at Carnoustie.

"There's nothing to be upset about," he said in Spanish, stopping under the big oak tree before entering the locker room. "My life is very good. If I play well, or if I don't, there is so much money. But I've always been like this."

As Mark Lawrie, executive director of the Argentine Golf Association puts it, "I don't think Pigu [Romero's nickname] will ever need a sport psychologist."

Romero, the winner at New Orleans two weeks ago and a former caddie, came to his first Masters eager to soak up knowledge. Asked if he was intimidated playing with Mickelson in the first two rounds and Woods in the third, Romero said, "No, I was excited because I knew I would learn." He added, "I was most impressed by Tiger. There are no flaws in his game. When I play with him, I watch everything he does."

Romero is only 5-feet-10 and generously listed at 165 pounds, but his thickly muscled arms could belong to a man 40 pounds heavier. Before turning pro at age 16, the sixth of eight children of a handyman was also a whiz on a unicycle. "Maybe it's all the carne asada," he joked. "I've always been strong. My parents are strong."

On Saturday, Romero outdrove Woods on several occasions, just as he had when the two were paired last year at Firestone. Because of the language barrier and Woods' major mode, there was minimal conversation between the two, but after the round, Woods signed Romero's hat. "Tiger likes him," said Mark Steinberg, Woods' agent. "He respects talent, and the kid is good."

For his part, Romero did not rule out a Carnoustie-like Sunday round. "I'm going to go out tomorrow the same way I did today--aggressively. For everything."

--Jaime Diaz