AUGUSTA, Ga. -- How would you describe your relationship with this place?

The question posed to Sergio Garcia hung in the air for a moment as the Spaniard thought of what to say -- and golf writers eagerly sat up in their seats waiting to hear his response. Garcia has been one of Augusta National's rare critics, but after grabbing a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2017 Masters, he offered a softened take on the famed track.

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"I mean, it's definitely improved. There's no doubt about that. Nothing wrong with Augusta. I think that the main thing that has improved is the way I'm looking at it the last, probably, two or three years, and obviously this year," Garcia said. "But, yeah, I mean, I think it's the kind of place that if you are trying to fight against it, it's going to beat you down. So you've just got to roll with it and realize that sometimes you're going to get good breaks, like has happened to me a few times this week and sometimes you're going to get not‑so‑good breaks. But at the end of the day, that's part of the game."

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Perhaps if Garcia's fellow PGA Tour pros had heard this mature response, they would've felt differently about his chances of winning the Masters. But in the April issue of Golf Digest, a host of anonymous players were asked to give their honest assessments of Garcia's (and others') games at Augusta National -- and they didn't hold back. Here was their pessimistic prognosis:

“The irony is that, ball-striking-wise, Sergio is suited to Augusta more than anyone other than Bubba. Sergio hits it both ways. He can hit the draw off the tee and the fade into the greens. He plays old-school golf. But he’s talked himself out of winning there. He clearly hates the place. He’s beaten before he gets to the first tee. His putting weakness is a problem, of course. As Ernie showed, you can be exposed on the first hole of the Masters. [Els six-putted the opening hole in 2016.] The same could happen to Sergio. Three-footers in the Masters are as stressful as 10-footers on other courses. If you miss, you’re going to be as far away again. And to hole them properly, you have to risk having an eight-footer coming back. Sergio’s worried about the next one, so he doesn’t hit the first one very well.” . . . “He sees it as a tricked-up course, one they would never build today. But he should like it more than he does. The most striking aspect of the course is that the shape asked off the tee is so often the opposite of the approach shot. That should suit Sergio. But he can’t get his head out of his arse.” . . . “His history in the majors only compounds his bad mood when he plays in the Masters. It’s a shame. He has everything, all the shots. And now he’s putting just fine. But his attitude is awful at Augusta. He can’t escape his past there, especially when he’s reminded of some of the things he has said.” [After a third-round 75 at the 2012 Masters, Garcia said, “I’m not good enough . . . I don’t have the thing I need to have. . . . I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place . . . in any major.“] . . . “He doesn’t handle adversity well, and yet he’s been a pretty good U.S. Open player. I think he’s just fed up with trying and coming up short.” . . . “I think he’ll win a major, but I don’t think it will be the Masters. Some people turn up and relish the prospect. Others dread it, and Sergio is one of those.”

Of course, with some of the negative things Garcia has said through the years about Augusta National (and the golf gods), it's not too surprising his colleagues felt that way. But they could look really silly come Sunday evening if Sergio is slipping on a green jacket.

Maybe he was just being diplomatic on Saturday. Or maybe Garcia has been faking us out all along.

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