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Sergio Garcia has a remarkable explanation for what it's like to return 15 years after his last start in Maui

January 07, 2021

A slow start to his round on Thursday (two bogeys in three holes) couldn't keep Sergio Garcia from posting a six-under 67 to settle two off the lead.

Gregory Shamus

KAPALUA, Hawaii — The last time Sergio Garcia played in the Sentry Tournament of Champions was 15 years ago. A lot’s changed since—marriage, two kids, a major on his résumé—but not everything.

“The course is definitely playing a lot slower than it used to last time I played here,” Garcia said of the Plantation Course, which underwent an extensive renovation in 2019. “I think it’s a combination of the rain and how the course is, it’s a lot greener, a lot lusher than it used to be, but yeah, the essence of the course is still the same.”

So apparently is the Spaniard’s ability to play well on it.

Making his first start since the Vivint Houston Open in November, Garcia bogeyed two of his first three holes before bouncing back in a big way—he chipped in for eagle from 50 feet on the par-5 fifth. He then added six more birdies on his way to a six-under 67 to sit just two strokes off the lead of Justin Thomas and Harris English after Thursday’s opening round.

“A little nervy early on, I guess, a couple missed shots and a couple missed putts,” Garcia said. “But the chip-in for eagle on [No.] 5 definitely settled me down a little bit and I started hitting it, trusting myself a little bit more, hitting a lot of good shots, hitting a lot of good putts and making a few in there.

“I still missed a couple good opportunities, but to be able to come back after being two over through three and shoot six under is a good start.”

That he started well shouldn’t be a surprise, either. The last time he was here, in 2006, he finished seventh. Five years earlier, he won the tournament, beating David Toms in a playoff.

That he’s even playing the tournament, however, is another matter.

Though Garcia had qualified for the winners-only event in previous years, he often begins his year on the European Tour, playing events in the Middle East instead of flying to Maui. This year, however, COVID-19 restrictions prevented him from visiting his parents in Spain, plus there was the possibility of the country going into lockdown because of the ongoing pandemic.

In November, Garcia contracted coronavirus himself and that prevented him from playing the Masters, which he won in 2017. That was also his last victory on the PGA Tour until the Sanderson Farms Championship last fall, which made him eligible for this year’s TOC in Maui. At home in Austin, Texas, with his wife and family, a trip to the Aloha State also made more sense than in previous years.

A return visit provided for some nice memories, too.

“I remember it was my first year here, so obviously really nice to be able to win on your first try,” Garcia said of his victory on the Plantation Course in 2002. “I was doing an interview the other day and they showed me a couple of clips of [some clutch putts] and, yeah, I looked really young which was nice.”

Another victory would be, too. And it would be a nice birthday present to himself. Garcia turns 41 on Saturday.