AUGUSTA, GA. – Sergio Garcia moved into a tie for the Masters lead Friday, shooting a second-round 69 made even more impressive by continued high winds at Augusta National.
Garcia is playing in his 74th major and 19th Masters. Despite spending much of his career among the world's top-ranked players, Garcia has never won a major title, making him a sentimental favorite going into this weekend unless you have a functional memory.
At the end of a tumultuous day, Garcia moved to 4 under par. He shares the lead with first-round leader Charley Hoffman, Thomas Pieters and Rickie Fowler, three other players without major titles.
At 37, Garcia claims to be a changed man, and he will soon be a married one. He and former Golf Channel employee Angela Akins have a wedding date later this year. He will spend Sunday trying to win his first major on what would have been the 60th birthday of his idol and mentor, Seve Ballesteros, the first Spaniard to win a Masters.
Change, for Garcia, was necessary and overdue, whether or not it leads to a green jacket.
After finishing 38th in 2009, Garcia complained about Augusta National. "I don't like it, to tell you the truth," he said. "I don't think it is fair. It is too tricky. Even when it is a dry day, you can be in the middle of the fairway and get mud on your ball."
Garcia was ignoring that 37 players handled the conditions better than he did.
Garcia has spit into the bottom of a cup after a three-putt at Doral, and whined after losing a British Open playoff to Padraig Harrington. He said that time, in 2011, "I should write a book on how not to miss a shot in the playoff and shoot 1-over," he said. "It is tough mainly because I don't feel like I did anything wrong. I didn't miss a shot in the playoff and hit unbelievable putts, but they just didn't want to go in. It's the way it is, I guess. It's not news in my life. I'm playing against a lot of guys out there. More than the field."
While finishing 12th at the 2012 Masters, Garcia said: "I'm not good enough and today I know it. I've been trying for 13 years and I don't feel capable of winning. I don't know what happened to me. Maybe it's something psychological. After 13 years, my chances are over. I'm not good enough for the majors. That's it."
Away from the course, Garcia hasn't shown much more class. In 2013, during a European Tour dinner, he said of an upcoming matchup with Tiger Woods: "We'll have him round every night. We will serve fried chicken."
Garcia would apologize in a statement later that night.
He's a hard guy to pull for, and yet the Masters patrons do. He's talented and flamboyant and his low, laser-like shots have cut through the wind. You hear his name chanted all around the course.
Has Garcia changed? Does he believe he can win a major at 37?
"I probably didn't accept things as well as I should have," he said Friday. "And I've shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one."
Garcia owns the worst third-round scoring average at Augusta National over the past 30 years, at 74.92. He will be tested this weekend by his demons as well as the field.
On the 18th hole Friday, Garcia hit two beautiful shots, the second buzzing the flag and leaving him with a short, downhill birdie attempt. He pushed his putt to the right and grimaced. It felt like Saturday had arrived early.
"I think the first two rounds are the best two I've played at Augusta, and I've been coming here for a while," Garcia said.
Speaking of Augusta National and perhaps his past, Garcia said, "You have to make peace with it, a little bit."