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For Garcia, 66 soothes sting of adversity

3/18/2011 - Golf Sergio Garcia

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The gesture with his middle finger was not a sign of defiance or a signal that he was angry. Nor was it even a return to feistiness for Sergio Garcia.

In the past, the Spanish star has been known to flash a temper, whether it be long-ago incidents when he kicked off a shoe into a crowd or gave that famous salute to hecklers in the gallery.

It was anything but that Friday at Innisbrook, where Garcia was simply showing off the middle finger of his right hand … because that is where he had been stung by a bee during the second round of the Transitions Championship.

So far, so good for Garcia, who shot a 6-under-par 66 on the Copperhead course to trail tournament leader Garrett Willis by one stroke.

"Everything seems to be on the right way," said Garcia, who has taken an understated approach to his return to competitive golf in the United States after a seven-month absence.

Garcia's 66 was his best score since the opening round of the 2010 season -- a span of 25 tournaments. He never once shot that low on the PGA Tour last year, and he did it only once on the European Tour -- in his very first tournament, in Abu Dhabi.

That, partially, is why Garcia took a two-month break from golf after the PGA Championship. He needed to re-energize his mind and body after a tough year in which his world ranking plummeted.

As it stands, Garcia is exempt only for next month's Masters -- based on a three-year exemption for winning the 2008 Players Championship. That was his last victory in the United States, and having fallen to 85th in the world, he is currently not in the field for the U.S. Open or British Open.

"I'm not worried about winning," said Garcia, who last won at the 2008 Castello Masters on the European Tour. "I just want to keep building confidence into my head, and these rounds obviously help."

Garcia has yet to make a bogey on the Copperhead course -- he is at 134, 8 under par -- and he seems to have found confidence with a new putting grip he put into play late last year.

Long considered an excellent ball striker, Garcia has had his issues on the greens. He's only 31, but there have been myriad experiments, including the belly putter and using a left-hand low grip.

Before going to a version of the "claw" grip made popular several years ago by Chris DiMarco, Garcia was putting conventionally. He started using the claw last year at the Dubai World Championship and likes what he has seen.

"The good thing is it feels like I'm hitting a lot of good putts, and that's the most important thing," he said.

As for that bee sting: Garcia said it happened on his fifth hole of the day, the par-5 14th. He felt something around his head, and reached back with his right hand. "I went to scrape it off and it stung me in the finger," he said.

While walking the rest of the fairway, Garcia attempted to extract the stinger on his own, did so, then waved off medical attention. Although the finger appeared a bit swollen, Garcia downplayed it -- as he has just about everything so far.

"It's just two rounds," he said. "I've hit the ball nicely, hit a lot of fairways, a lot of greens and been chipping and putting the ball nicely."

Sounds like a good formula for winning.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.