- Tim Rosaforte
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Twenty years have passed since Scotsman Sandy Lyle won the Players Championship. The fact that no European has since raised the crystal at the TPC Sawgrass did not occur to Sergio Garcia as he made his way to the back nine Sunday. He was just trying to win in the United States for the first time in nearly two years.
The Spaniard joined countryman José Maria Olazábal and Robert Karlsson among the top eight on the leaderboard by shooting a final-round 66 that brought him a solo second, 2 shots behind Phil Mickelson. Garcia's electrifying run of four straight birdies ended with a par at the 18th; in the NBC booth afterward with Bob Costas, Garcia blamed a double-bogey on the same closing hole Saturday for costing him the tournament. "I barely missed a fairway and barely missed a green the last two days on this course," Garcia said.
Thus he added his name to the list of Euros who have finished second at the Players since Lyle's win. The tally includes Padraig Harrington and Bernhard Langer twice, and Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Luke Donald once each.
It was Garcia's third top-five in the U.S. since the Florida swing, and one of many chances he has had in the last two years to win around the globe. This was his eighth top-three finish worldwide since winning the Omega European Masters in September 2005. He finished T-5 in last year's British Open, shooting 73 Sunday in the final pairing with Tiger Woods. "I feel like I've played well enough to win," he said. "Somebody just played better."
Nobody at the Players played better than Olazábal in the last three rounds. After opening with a 78, Ollie shot 66 Friday to make the cut and followed with scores of 69-67 on the weekend. He jumped from T-108 after the first round to a tie for third with Stewart Cink. (Among Euros who have finished third since Lyle are Langer, Montgomerie and Henrik Stenson.) Ollie became a contender for best shot of the week when he holed a pitch from near the grandstands at 18 Friday to save par.
Donald also was in the mix until a final-round 74 sent him spiraling from T-5 to T-16. While the Englishman did a reverse pivot on the leaderboard, Karlsson vaulted toward his best showing in America. The big Swede, who lost to Tiger Woods in Ryder Cup singles last year, made 14 birdies on the weekend but derailed himself with three double-bogeys Saturday. "I dumped three balls in the water yesterday," Karlsson said. "Without that, the weekend would have been really, really great."
Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.
It's been 20 years since a European won the Players. A few came close this past week, but finished without a victory cigar.