(Reuters) - A hole-in-one at the famous 17th hole lifted the mood of Masters champion Sergio Garcia on an otherwise frustrating day for the Spaniard in the first round at the Players Championship on Thursday.
Returning to competition four weeks after claiming his long overdue first major title, a rusty Garcia trudged disconsolately to the tee at the island-green hole, three over par after a day of mediocrity at the TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Florida.
At the same hole where he dunked two balls into the water four years ago when tied for the lead with Tiger Woods late in the final round, Garcia more than made amends.
Hitting a gap wedge from 122 yards, he took a short backswing and aimed a smooth swing at the front pin. His ball flew over the water and landed a couple of yards in front of the hole, almost going in on the second bounce.
The ball then bounced a third time, a few inches beyond the cup, put on the breaks and screwed back into the hole.
It was the eighth ace at the island green in the history of the event, and Garcia raised his right arm in a somewhat muted clenched-fist celebration as the gallery went wild.
“It was a solid 52-degree (wedge) for me,” Garcia told reporters after carding a one-over 73 that left him six strokes off the lead.
“I hit a good shot, but ... it can do anything. It was nice to see it bounce and kind of spin back into the hole.”
Garcia said it was 12th ace in competition.
It was the highlight of an otherwise drab performance that could have been even worse after his awful start.
”I‘m not going to lie, it wasn’t a great day out there,“ he said. ”I felt a little bit nervous early on after the high from the Masters.
”I wasn’t quite in the tournament because of everything that’s been going on. I felt like I was a little bit up in the clouds, and when I woke up, I was four-over after six (holes).
“Got off to a terrible start but managed to have a great finish and tomorrow I’ll go out there a little calmer and get back into this tournament.”
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Larry Fine/Peter Rutherford