AUGUSTA, Ga. - He’s had his share of highs and lows, and loves a fine whine every once in a while. But good or bad, Sergio Garcia almost always entertains.
There he was in the Masters interview room Friday, not long after shooting a second-round 68, when he was asked which of Garcia’s fingers has an infected nail, an injury that’s bothered him for a while and affects his grip.
“This one,’’ Garcia said, as he flashed the reporter his left middle finger. Then he smiled.
The reason Garcia was brought into the interview room to begin with was a 4-under-par round that had him briefly tied for the second-round lead before he made a bogey on the 18th hole.
If it seems Garcia hasn’t been terribly relevant in the Masters for quite some time, you’d be right. But the wunderkind who leaped into the spotlight at the 1999 PGA Championship has been on a nice roll in the major championships recently, and has positioned himself through two rounds here to perhaps finally claim one of golf’s big trophies that most assumed he’d already have in his display case.
Garcia, 32, starts the third round tied for third, one shot behind co-leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner. His strong start comes on the heels of a solid major season last year, when Garcia tied for seventh at the US Open, tied for ninth at the British Open, and tied for 12th at the PGA.
But in typical Garcia fashion, the 17-time winner (seven PGA Tour, 10 European Tour) wasn’t ready to predict that he’s ready to win a major now.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to win. I’ll see. We’ll see. Depends how I play tomorrow, and then it depends how I go out there on Sunday and how I play,’’ Garcia said after his second-round 68. “I wish I could tell you I’m ready to win, but I really don’t know. So I’m just going to give it my best try, and you know, hopefully that will be good.’’
Garcia’s relationship with Augusta National hasn’t been that good over the years. Rocky, actually.
His only two decent finishes came early in his career: After making the cut as an amateur in his 1999 debut, Garcia placed eighth in 2002, and tied for fourth in 2004 after a final-round 66, which remains the lowest of his 46 Masters rounds.
Since then, he hasn’t gotten much out of his play, and hasn’t had very many nice things to say. He’s missed the cut three times (2005, 2007, and 2008), was 46th in 2006, and finished no better than 35th in any of the last three years.
He unloaded following a final-round 74 in 2009, comments he would apologize for days later. After a tie for 38th - he was tied for sixth at the halfway point, then had a 75-74 weekend - Garcia was asked how he felt about the golf course.
“I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s fair. It’s too tricky,’’ he said then. “It’s too much of a guessing game.’’
What would he like to see the tournament do differently?
“I don’t care, they can do whatever they want. It’s not my problem. I just come here and play, and then go home. That’s about it.’’
Three years later, how does he feel?
“I think it’s just an amazing place,’’ Garcia said. “Obviously, it would be nice to play with good weather and play the course the way it’s supposed to play: firm, kind of firm greens, things like that. It’s just one of those places that you always are looking forward to coming back and hopefully play good golf. I’m just delighted to be in a pretty good position at the moment.’’
It’s a position Garcia - who has nine top-5 finishes in the majors - has been in before, but he’s never done enough to win. It might finally be his time. Maybe not. Either way, it figures to be entertaining.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.