sergioUntil the upcoming season, there’s going to be some downtime…so in this feature, we’re going to be looking at the second half of the question, “who you got: Tiger or the Field?”  We’ll be looking at the handful of players we think have a shot to dethrone the man himself, examining the top guys as well as a few players going under the radar.

I might as well let it out of the bag…I have a SEVERE mancrush on Sergio Garcia.  Severe probably doesn’t even do it justice, but for the sake of time, we’re going to leave it at that.  Phew…load off of my shoulders for sure. 

So what makes me think that Sergio has any chance to stand up to Tiger after failing in glorious fashion (while dressed as a banana) in the past?  What makes me think Sergio will overcome his streaky putting late on a Sunday?  Valid questions…

Before we tackle those questions, lets look at the things Sergio does well…namely, his outrageous ballstriking, absurd distance and creative shortgame.  Sergio, without a doubt, in my mind, is the most talented man in golf from tee-to-green on the PGA Tour, having the ability to not only shape shots in whatever fashion he needs, but the consistency and control to really get after tough pin placements and the distance to shorten longer holes. 

His full swing is an exercise in simplicty and fundamentals.  There’s nothing in his swing that’s inefficient or power-sapping, nor does he look like he’s contorting and lashing, like Camillo Villegas, in order to hit the ball farther.  It’s compact and his positions are wonderful, exhibiting what might be the widest shoulder turn in golf, turning, at the end of his backswing, and incredible 120 degrees from where he started.  From there, it’s simply maintain the lag and release…well, simply for him because he’s otherworldly talented, but my point remains…it’s a swing that he can rely on because it’s simple.

I’m going to say it…Sergio Garcia is a better driver and iron player than Tiger Woods.

Now, I’m not saying he’s better than Tiger, as Tiger is MUCH better around the greens, especially on them, and has the edge by miles in terms of the mental aspect, but as a pure golf specimen, Sergio is one of the few that can claim to be in Tiger’s league as an all-around player, even though just typing that kind of makes me cringe, especially with the long clubs.  And it’s not like Sergio isn’t used to being around the top during majors, seeing as he has quite a bit of spectacular shortcomings imbedded into all golf fans’ memories…I’m not really doing myself any favors here am I?

OK, enough of this BS.  I realize that he’s a polarizing figure in professional golf and has enough of a history of failure, immaturity, angst and spittiness to alienate himself from a wide number of fans, but even if you are his most ardent non-supporter, you have to respect the man’s game.  Not only that, but consider his recent form, both in on-course ability and maturity.  He’s handling losses with far more grace and not getting consumed by the moment and breaking down or handling it terribly, something which is augmenting his already precocious talent that was realized in a late season charge to the top of seemingly every leaderboard worth mentioning in the last two months of the season to the point where he’s now the 2nd ranked player in the world.

His “meh” Ryder Cup performance aside, it’s hard to think of a better player in the last quarter of the season, maybe Veej, maybe Camillo.  Just look at his 2008 season…won The Players, 18th in the US Open (which I consider remarkable because of his horrific start), 2nd at the PGA, 2nd at the Barclays, 5th at the Deutsche Bank, 2nd at the Tour Championship, won the Spanish Masters, won the HSBC Champions event in Shanghai, placed 4th in the Volvo Masters…he’s a handful of strokes away from having an all-time great season, and these are all pretty big-time events.

Why am I encouraged by all these close calls?  Easy, he’s elite in every meaningful scoring statistic except for one…putting.  He was the leader in scoring average and couldn’t putt for shit, as evidenced by his 142 ranking in putts per round, yet at the end of the season, all his practice with the flatstick finally looked to be coming around, a wonderful compliment to his still improving ironplay.

So what was seemingly a disappointing season in July ended up turning into a tour de force at the end propelling his offseason and being the most hyped, non-Tiger player heading into 2009.  So what can we expect in 2009?

I’ve said it numerous other places before, but this year, I’m predicting TWO majors for Sergio.  I don’t like his chances at the Masters, but LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE his chances at Bethpage Black, where he’ll undoubtedly be looking for some payback from the heckling he recieved, and then again at Turnberry to win the Open.  It’s purely gut feeling, but he’s entering the age where most human golfers (Tiger isn’t human) hit their prime.

Plus, (and again, please note I have a giant mancrush on his game so take everything I say with a grain of salt) he kind of reminds me of Ben Hogan in that they were both incredibly talented ballstrikers that were somewhat streaky on the greens and had that edge to them.  I’m not saying Sergio is headed for a major streak akin to Hogan’s, but the similarities are there, for sure.  You can’t just discount Sergio because he didn’t get it done and seems like he’s been around forever because the dude is just TOO good.

So to get this series started off right, I chose, in my opinion, the golfer who seems up to the task.  I hope we find out this year.