Ryder Cup legend Garcia has Saudi International in his sights

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Sergio Garcia birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to defeat Justin Rose at Augusta National and claim the 2017 Masters. (Getty Images)
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Sergio Garcia has 35 worldwide wins to his name including a maiden major at the 2017 Masters. (Supplied)
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Sergio Garcia has 35 worldwide wins to his name including a maiden major at the 2017 Masters. (Supplied)
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Updated 21 January 2020

Ryder Cup legend Garcia has Saudi International in his sights

  • ‘Since I have been married and had my daughter Azalea, I have felt much more relaxed in life, both on and off the course’
  • ‘Whenever I am on the course, I am always trying to play my best golf with the aim of winning the event, wherever I am playing’

JEDDAH: Spanish superstar golfer Sergio Garcia, known as El Niño, will be back in the Kingdom next week to once again tee it up against the world’s best at the Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers (January 30 – February 2).

Garcia is one of Europe’s finest golfers with a stellar career of 35 worldwide wins including a maiden major triumph at the 2017 Masters at the iconic Augusta.

Garcia wrote his name into the history books at the 2018 Ryder Cup, becoming the record points scorer in the sport’s biggest team event. Garcia has made nine appearances in the Ryder Cup and is victorious in six of them. Garcia speaks about new priorities in his life since turning 40, making amends in Saudi Arabia and golf’s life lessons.

How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market?

It is really important for golf and also for the European Tour. We visit so many different countries during the year and it is always nice to see a new part of the world. It is going to be a very strong event again with so many world-class players competing for the title and I am looking forward to coming back.

What are your thoughts on returning back to Saudi Arabia after last year?

I am really excited to be coming back to the Saudi International this year. I feel terrible about what happened following last year’s disqualification. I want to go back and show my respect – I love the people there and they wanted me to come back. So that was an easy decision, and I’m excited to go back there. Show myself, show the true Sergio, and show them my respect and try to play the best that I can and hopefully have a great tournament. The event has a welcoming feel to it and everyone there makes you feel so comfortable from the clubhouse staff, to the hotel to the organizers, so I am excited. The people I met last year are fantastic and their hospitality is very warm and welcoming.

Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?

Last year, the fans were great and I hope it will be even better this year. The fans are part of the event and if there were no fans, golf wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun to play. They are a part of the event as much as us guys playing, and so us players hope to put on a good show for them this week.

More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?

Golf is obviously so new in the region but I hope that from seeing the world-class golf on show during the week, the local fans have a think about giving it a try. There are lots of fun putting and chipping games going on in the entertainment zone which are great fun. Working hard to succeed in the game can teach you to have faith and confidence in yourself as well as never giving up.

At New Year you posted on Twitter a toast to your last decade, which mentioned your marriage and the birth of your first daughter (and imminent arrival of first son!). These are three huge, brilliant milestones: how have they impacted you as a golfer, on and off the course?

Since I have been married and had my daughter Azalea, I have felt much more relaxed in life, both on and off the course. Family provides you with a feeling that is so amazing and they become priority in life. They support me on and off the course and they have given me more dedication to work hard and achieve my goals, for them.

For many of your fans, it was you winning your first major title – which came at the 2017 Masters – that was the highlight of their golfing decade…something you also mentioned in your New Year tweet! Nearly three years on now, how – if in any way – did that win change you as a golfer?

For sure, it was the best moment in my career, but it is closely rivalled by all of the years playing in the Ryder Cup. Holing that putt in the playoff at Augusta felt amazing and it is a moment I will never forget. Whenever I am on the course, I am always trying to play my best golf with the aim of winning the event, wherever I am playing.

You’re a regular competitor in the Middle East, playing in the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi most years. How much do you enjoy the golf on offer in this part of the world?

I really enjoy playing out here in the Middle East. I love playing all of the courses out here and they all provide us golfers with an enjoyable different challenge each time we play. The courses are always pristine, the weather is perfect and with Saudi Arabia being added to the Middle East schedule, I am looking forward to another week I can enjoy out here to start my season.

A trio of Saudi golfers will be playing in the Saudi International. What would it mean to golf to see a big name, major-competing player come out of the Middle East?

It would great to see. There are so many good golfers on the tour from all over the world and to have a new face would be great for everyone. When a new player comes on the tour, it brings a new challenge for all of us, so I hope there will be more golfers from here, to come and challenge us.


Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

Updated 30 September 2020

Fati delights, Jovic disappoints, optimism for Atletico

  • Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona

MADRID: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid will all be hoping to build on their first wins of the season as La Liga heads into its fourth round of games this week.

Here are the five talking points ahead of the midweek fixtures.

For the first time in a long time, Barcelona can enjoy some calm after a 4-0 win over Villarreal in their first match of the season on Sunday.

Lionel Messi scored on his first competitive appearance since attempting to leave in the summer but most exciting was the performance of the 17-year-old Ansu Fati, who scored twice and won a penalty.

Ronald Koeman must decide how to make the most of the teenager, whose maturity on the pitch belies his age and whose body might not be ready to start every week.

But Fati's pace, movement and decision-making are all so impressive it will be difficult to leave him out, as Barca look to build on that win at Celta Vigo on Thursday.

Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane switched to a 4-4-2 formation during his team's 3-2 win at Real Betis on Saturday as Luka Jovic was deployed up front alongside Karim Benzema.

But the Serbian striker failed to take his chance, instead enduring another underwhelming night before going off with 18 minutes to go.

It remains to be seen whether Zidane persists with Jovic at home to Real Valladolid on Wednesday, or at all, given Madrid could yet decide to let their €60 million (today $70 million) signing leave before the end of the transfer window.

When Eden Hazard regains fitness, that spot next to Benzema will belong to the Belgian so Jovic's window of opportunity may be small. Time would appear to be running out.

Atletico scored 19 fewer goals than champions Real Madrid last season and 35 fewer than Barcelona.

So hitting six against Granada on Sunday offered some early encouragement that this season's Atletico, boosted by the arrival of Luis Suarez in attack, can put those scoring problems behind them.

Suarez stole the show after scoring twice on his debut but Joao Felix was arguably the biggest plus for Diego Simeone, who will hope the 20-year-old's excellent display is the start of a more consistent campaign.

Atletico go up against newly promoted Huesca on Wednesday, the kind of game they slipped up in too often last season.

Even defeat by Real Madrid could not knock Real Betis off the top of the table, as Manuel Pellegrini's team enjoy the benefits of a strong start and more games played than the traditional powerhouses three weeks into the season.

But there is cause for optimism longer-term as Betis began with wins against Alaves and Real Valladolid, before matching Madrid for prolonged spells until their opponents pulled away in the second half.

With the likes of Nabil Fekir, Sergio Canales and Joaquin, this Betis squad has not lacked for attacking talent but solidity at the back has too often been an afterthought.

Villarreal face Alaves on Wednesday, with pressure already on both coaches. Villarreal have four points from their opening three games but a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Barcelona on Sunday, as well as a draw at home to newly-promoted Huesca means Unai Emery could do with a victory.

Alaves, meanwhile, are second bottom after managing just a point from their first three games, with Pablo Machin seeking a first win at la Ceramica.

Valencia have also made a stuttering start, a draw at home to Huesca on Saturday coming on the back of a surprise loss away at Celta Vigo.

New coach Javi Gracia has already expressed disappointment with the club's summer transfer dealings, meaning credit with the board may be lacking if results do not improve.