JACKSON, Miss. – Sergio Garcia can open his eyes now.
The 40-year-old Spaniard, who has resorted to putting with his eyes closed, is a winner again on the PGA Tour for the first time since the 2017 Masters.
“Would you believe me if I told you I’ve been doing it for about three years?” Garcia said on Friday. “I’ve gone on and off, but like Augusta I won it playing with my eyes closed every single putt and some of the other wins, too.”
That list now includes the Sanderson Farms Championship as Garcia broke out of a prolonged slump with a final-round 5-under 67 at the Country Club of Jackson and beat Peter Malnati with a birdie on the final hole to notch his 11th PGA Tour title.
Garcia was mired in a prolonged slump, recording just one top-10 finish since February and he’d missed three of his last four cuts. He failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs and dropped out of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking last week for the first time in nine years. The primary culprit was a putter that plagued him. Garcia ranked No. 187 in SGP last season, and entered the week at No. 246 this season. As he searched for his game, Garcia flirted with various putting grips and freed up his stroke by closing his eyes when he putted. He made 55 of 56 putts from inside five feet and gained strokes against the field on the greens in all four rounds.
On a glorious day of sunshine, Malnati, the 2015 Sanderson Farms Championship winner, started the day five strokes off the pace and teed off nearly two hours before Garcia, but he made birdie on seven of his first 12 holes to join the trophy hunt. Malnati, 33, was mostly thinking about earning a top-10 finish to qualify for next week’s Tour event in Las Vegas until his putter got hot. He rolled in 139 feet of putts in the final round, including a 33-foot birdie putt at No. 17. He pumped his fist three times and for the moment led by three strokes. He fired the low round of the day, 9-under 63, to set the pace at 18 under.
“This is my dream job, and I get to do it every day, and it beats me up and it’s so hard, and the competition out here is so strong, and you fail so much,” Malnati said. “To have a day like today, it just felt awesome. I feel like I won the tournament. I probably won’t, but I feel like I did, and it’s amazing.”
He just did this … pic.twitter.com/z6UoP8txvC
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 4, 2020
Garcia caught Malnati in dramatic fashion, striking a fairway wood from 260 yards to inside 4 feet and holing the putt for eagle. Then he delivered the knock out punch at 18, planting a mid-iron from 172 yards to inside three feet for birdie to finish 19-under 269. Garcia opened his eyes after tapping in the winning putt, pumped his fist, and looked to the sky.
“If he keeps making putts, everybody else will be trying it out here, too,” Brandt Snedeker said.