By Larry Fine
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia would have loved nothing more than sticking it to his longtime adversary Tiger Woods with a daring shot at the pin on the penultimate hole to win Sunday's Players Championship.
Instead, the Spaniard sunk his title chances and virtually handed the crown to the world number one when Garcia splashed two tee shots at the short but treacherous par-three 17th island hole.
Garcia was tied for the lead at 13 under par with Woods, with whom he has feuded and traded barbs over an incident during their third-round pairing on Saturday, when the Spaniard headed to the tee on the 137-yard hole.
Woods had just parred the hole and was playing the difficult 18th.
The pin at 17 was on the right edge of the green, in spitting distance of the water's edge, but rather than aim for a safe landing, Garcia went for the kill.
"As the ball was in the air I was thinking, please be right, because it was straight at it. It was probably three feet left of the hole," Garcia said.
"When it splashed, you think, well hopefully I hit a good shot after this and make (bogey) four and still have a chance on the next," he said, suggesting a birdie at 18 might still tie him with Woods and force a playoff.
But in a move reminiscent of a scene from the golf movie "Tin Cup", in which the hero throws away his chances at a major title by stubbornly trying over and over to carry a water hazard to reach a green, Garcia teed it up again for another assault at the pin rather than play it safe or try from the drop area.
Garcia said he decided not to hit from the drop area because it was a bad angle to the hole.
"So I thought, I'll just hit the same shot a little bit harder and I did, but a little bit of breeze picked up and it bounced on top and came back (in the water). The next one I hit a little bit harder and finally got on the green."
By then, Garcia, who wore a bemused expression during the ordeal, had to settle for a quadruple-bogey seven.
He soaked another tee shot in the water on the 18th hole on his way to finishing with a double-bogey six that dropped him down to a tie for eighth on seven under par, six shots behind winner Woods.
Garcia said the meltdown at 17 did not dampen his spirits.
"It doesn't bug me now. It happens," he said.
"I've been fortunate on that hole. I've won my Players Championship on that hole," said the Spaniard, who won his 2008 Players title at 17 in a playoff against Paul Goydos.
"That hole has been good to me for the most part. Today it wasn't. That's the way it is. That's the kind of hole it is. You've got to love it for what it is."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)