Sergio Garcia eyes a win at Dubai Desert Classic

Updated 31 January 2013
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Sergio Garcia eyes a win at Dubai Desert Classic

DUBAI: Less than three years ago, Sergio Garcia was mired in a slump so prolonged that he missed out on the 2010 Ryder Cup team and saw his ranking fall as low as 85th. He moped around the golf course and at one point talked of giving up the game altogether.
But rather than walking away, the former No. 2-ranked Spaniard said yesterday he used those dark days in 2009 and 2010 as an inspiration to find his way back. He has won twice in each of the past two years and a victory this week at the Dubai Desert Classic could propel him back into the top 10.
He is up to No. 14 in the latest rankings, after finishing second at last week’s Qatar Masters, a shot behind Chris Wood.
“Excited. It’s been two good years,” Garcia said. “But more than anything, I’m excited because I know how I’m feeling. I know how my attitude is on the course. I know how my will is to try to do things to get better.
“We had a good start of the season, which is always nice. So I just want to make sure that everything stays the same. Because I’m going to have bad weeks, but if I can manage to stay with the right attitude, even on the bad weeks, it’s going to make the year go so easy and so much better.”
His return to form has also stoked talk of Garcia finally winning a major — something he has come agonizingly close to on several occasions. Garcia has twice been in the final group with Tiger Woods (US Open at Bethpage, British Open at Hoylake), the runner-up finish at age 19 at Medinah, in a playoff at Carnoustie in 2007, and a runner-up finish to Padraig Harrington at Oakland Hills in the 1998 PGA Championship.
The 33-year-old Garcia brushed aside talk of a major victory, saying he will just keep playing golf and let the results speak for themselves.
“My form, I feel pretty good about it,” Garcia said. “Do I feel like it’s the best I’ve played my career? Probably not. But I feel fairly good for the most part.”
After winning The Players Championship in November 2008, Garcia went 2½ years without a top-three finish. It would be almost three years before he would win again, on either the PGA or European tours. His ranking, a career-best No. 2 in 2009, plunged as low as 85.
Garcia credits his recovery that began with a string of wins in Spain in 2011 partly to his improved short game — on display down the stretch in Qatar — as well as a better attitude on and off the course. He also benefited from laser eye surgery last year that corrected his astigmatism — improving his aim and reading of the greens.

“I’ve always said that the bad days and things like that or the bad losses, if you take them the right way, they are very good, because you can learn a lot from those days,” Garcia said of his slump.
“I think that obviously putting is improved. It’s got a lot more consistent. Chipping is improved. Probably my long game is obviously better than it was before,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s resurgence has not gone unnoticed by his Ryder Cup teammates, or those younger players who have long idolized him.
“He played well at end of last year, winning at the Wyndham Championship and had a few other good results winning in Johor (Open),” said Lee Westwood, a Ryder Cup teammate who is also playing this week in Dubai. “It’s nice to see him playing well. The game of golf needs characters like Sergio.”
Rafael Cabrera-Bello, a Spaniard who won the Dubai tournament last year and grew up trying to emulate Garcia’s bold and aggressive play, said he has seen a different player on the course in recent months.
“We all know he had a period where he wasn’t enjoying golf, wasn’t playing too good,” Cabrera-Bello said. “I think he is well over that. Even if he is on the course and things are not going his way, he is looking at it from a different perspective. He is enjoying the game again.”


Saudi Arabia prepare to step up World Cup preparations with Italy test

Updated 57 min 14 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia prepare to step up World Cup preparations with Italy test

  • Green Falcons play the Azzurri in Switzerland
  • Mancini: 'Saudi Arabia are a fast and physical team'

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is wary of the threat posed by Saudi Arabia ahead of their friendly on Monday in St.Gallen in Switzerland.
The four-time global champions failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and are looking to rebuild ahead of the 2020 European Championships. Mancini was appointed in May to take over the national team and breathe in some new life.
“This is a vital game for us,” Mancini told Saudi Arabian television ahead of the friendly. “We know that Saudi Arabia are preparing for the World Cup so this is a great chance for us to build for the future,” said the former Manchester City boss.
“Saudi Arabia are a fast and physical team,” added Mancini. “All of the players are technically very good and we are looking forward to the test. We have to be careful as some of the players are playing for their World Cup place.”
Mario Balotelli is set to win his first international cap in four years for Italy after being recalled by Mancini.
“We didn’t make the World Cup,” said Balotelli. “Now we have to forget about that and focus on the future.”
The former Manchester City, AC Milan and Liverpool forward is looking forward to the challenge on Monday.
“We have to forget about what happened earlier this year and the fact that we didn’t qualify,” said Balotelli. “That is history now and we are really looking forward to playing Saudi Arabia. I haven’t played for the national team for a long time and I feel that I still have a lot to offer.”
Saudi Arabia are coming off the back of two 2-0 friendly victories against Algeria and Greece in a Spanish training camp that took place in May, but a good result against Italy would increase confidence levels further.
The lowest-ranked of all the 32 teams at the World Cup have a busy preparation period and take on Peru and Germany after the Italy clash. Saudi Arabia will meet the hosts Russia in the opening game of the 2018 World Cup in Moscow on June 14. After that, the Green Falcons take on Uruguay and Egypt in Group A.
“Any game is an important one in the build-up to the World Cup,” Saudi Arabia coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said on Sunday. “But playing Italy is something special. If we can get a good result then it can give us confidence to go on and have a good tournament. The important thing for us is that we feel we believe at this level and that is why we can try and push Italy all the way.”
The Green Falcons have been in Switzerland for a week in what is the fifth and final leg of their World Cup preparations. “Preparations are running smoothly and perfectly,” said Nawaf Al-Temyat, the vice president of Saudi Arabian Football Federation and chairman of World Cup 2018 preparation team, in a video on the federation’s Twitter account.
“We look forward in the coming three weeks to strong preparations. We’ll be playing three tough games against tough opponents. The Italian team has a new coach, Mancini, which is a great motivation for us. The Peruvian team is also a strong one and might be full of surprises in the World Cup. The coach and the players are very skilled.”
The Green Falcons have won three, lost three and drawn one of the seven games since Pizzi replaced Edgardo Bauza.
“We always say in the Saudi team that performance should be good during friendlies and results should be good in official games,” added Al-Temyat. “This means results are not important in friendlies but our performance is.”