Improved putter play revives Garcia's game

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Sergio Garcia is up to No. 23 in the world and poised to win his first major after five top-three finishes.

Last year's Open Championship provided a feel-good story for the ages, with 42 year-old Darren Clarke capturing his first major. Could 2012's feel-good story be Sergio Garcia?

Garcia may have caught some people off guard at the Masters when he spoke from the heart about his ability to win a major, "I'm not good enough ... I don't have the thing I need to have...In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."

His frustration is understandable. Garcia has five top-three finishes without a win - only three players have more (Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Doug Sanders.) His 52nd major as a pro might be the time for that elusive first win. Phil Mickelson had eight top-three finishes in his first 41 majors as a pro before his first win. Mickelson won his first major at age 33. Garcia turned 32 in January.

Garcia's game is far removed from the player who fell to No. 85 in the world before the 2011 Masters. He's up to No. 23 in the world and has finished in the top 12 in four of the last five majors. One reason for the turnaround, and optimism heading into this weekend, is his improved putting.

Most Top 3 Finishes in a Major Championship Without a Victory

Garcia has made 87.4 percent of his putts from inside 10 feet on TOUR this season after making only 85.6 percent in 2011. Inside 5 feet, his make percentage ranks seventh on TOUR (97.9) after he finished 71st in 2011 (96.5).

Why can't he be the 10th straight first-timer to capture a major? The scene sets up perfectly to erase the ghosts of two of his biggest near-misses. Five years ago, Garcia had his only 54-hole lead in a major, bogeyed 15 and 18 en route to a final-round 73 before losing in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie.

His playing partner for the first two rounds, Tiger Woods, captured the 1999 PGA Championship at Garcia's expense. Despite a 1-under 71 in the final round with a crucial bogey on 15, a 19-year-old Garcia fell one shot short of Woods for the tournament.