Sergio Garcia never has been known for great putting acumen, and there have been times when even he has questioned his own mental fortitude. So it was quite a two-way feat Saturday that he had both the touch and toughness to take the lead on Bethpage Black, where the greens were so slick that golfers called them borderline unfair.
"Usually when you are putting on fast greens, you have an idea where the ball is going to stop. And today, you didn't," said Garcia, who despite playing in the final group, when the conditions were toughest, shot 2-under-par 69 and finished the third round of the Barclays at 10 under.
Garcia does have a penchant for being brutally honest, so, being the leader, he was not complaining. He was just answering questions on a topic raised by other players during the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup tournament. Among those who also spoke of the green speeds were Nick Watney, who shot par 71 and is second at 8 under, and Tiger Woods, who three-putted four times and is tied for 10th at 4 under.
"Probably some of the fastest greens I've ever played," said Garcia, who is coming off a win at the Wyndham Championship on Monday. "Was it unfair? I wouldn't say it was unfair. It was borderline. I mean, it felt like the greens were very close to Shinnecock Hills at the U.S. Open. I don't know, I felt like if you caught a little subtle slope and it was one of those slopes that was very, very brown, the ball just would not stop."
Woods, who had remarked on how soft the greens seemed Thursday, said, "Some of the greens have grass, some of them are a little bit on the dirt side."
But Slugger White, vice president, rules and competitions for the PGA Tour, said that the greens were running consistently at 12 to 12.3 on the Stimpmeter, and that the Black had not been prepared any differently Friday night than it had been Wednesday or Thursday nights.
"The golf course was not unplayable at all," White said. "If it were, we would not have had any scores in the 60s."
Watney, who had said Friday that he hoped the greens would be fast because that condition rewards good play. "Maybe not this fast," he said Saturday. "I mean, you have a 15-footer and normally you hit those two feet by. Well, here, they are going four or five feet by."
Nonetheless, Watney made five putts of 15 feet or longer. He considered himself fortunate that a friend, Sam Reeves, put him in touch this week with Darrell Kestner, director of golf at Deepdale Golf Club, which is known for its fast greens. Kestner, annually included on the list of top teachers in the country, changed Watney's putting setup and decidedly improved his week.
"You know, I think he played extremely well. Probably better than me," said Garcia, who was in the last twosome with Watney.
Truth is, no one has played better than Garcia has this week. After each of his three bogeys, he made a birdie. He played the final eight holes in 2 under par. "I realized that bogeys were going to happen, no matter what. I just kept believing what I've been doing and just kept my patience," he said.
The player who in 2002 got so exasperated with the Bethpage crowd that he made an obscene gesture earned nothing but cheers Saturday. This time, he kept his head when others were flummoxed.
"We know what Bethpage Black is all about," Garcia said. "We know it's a tough golf course and you've just got to realize that's the way it's going to be."