NORTON, Mass. – Since making a racially tinged joke about Tiger Woods in May at a European Tour awards dinner, Sergio Garcia has been trying to play himself through one of the most embarrassing episodes of his 14-year pro career.
For a good part of the summer, the stress of the minor controversy threatened to derail his season. Coming into this week at the Deutsche Bank Championship, his last top 10 was the Players, where the whole saga began with Woods.
Now after a 7-under 64 in Saturday's second round to take the 36-hole lead at 13-under at TPC Boston, the 33-year-old Spaniard has an opportunity to put some distance between himself and that difficult period.
"The summer has been tough," he said. "It's been a little difficult for me. But I'm trying hard to keep doing the right things. And at the end of the day that's the only thing I can ask myself for, give my best effort out there.
"Some days you feel better than others. But hopefully I'll be able to feel as good as I felt the first two days and put another two good scores on Sunday and Monday."
On Saturday morning, Garcia had seven birdies and an eagle at the par-5 18th hole. The only blemish on his scorecard came at the 14th, where he made a double-bogey.
The Deutsche Bank marks Garcia's fifth consecutive event. He would have preferred to take this week off, but at 55th in the FedEx Cup points standings after some mediocre finishes over the last month, he was very vulnerable to lose his position. The top 70 in points move on to BMW Championship for the third leg of the playoffs.
"Sixteen guys could easily pass me if they played well," Garcia said. "We decided to come here and make a little bit of an extra effort of playing five weeks in a row, which I don't usually enjoy very much."
On Saturday, he alluded to the fallout from his "fried chicken" comments in May.
"It's been a good learning experience," he said. "So I think that you always have to try to take the positives out of all those things and learn from your mistakes.
"And hopefully make you a better player, a better person. So hopefully I'll be able to take that out of it."
Garcia's evolution into a more mature and confident man could take some time. But, for a player, nothing soothes open wounds like winning.
A win at Deutsche Bank could do wonders for Garcia's battered psyche. And not simply because it would help resolve some of the embarrassment stemming from the escapades in May, but how it could help bring him back into conversations on the course rather than off it.
Garcia is very much of the same generation as Woods and Adam Scott. Now after his triumphant Masters, Scott has entered a new echelon in the game.
But Garcia is still majorless, and is still trying to live up to the expectations that many had for him after he faced down Tiger at the 1999 PGA Championship.
His feud with Tiger at the Players was emblematic of his disappointments at not becoming that great rival to the 14-time major champion. If Sergio has truly come out of this summer storm a better man, he will find some peace and patience with his own development as a player and a man, and not look at himself through the lens of others around him. A win this week would vault Garcia into third in the points standings, ensuring his place in the season-ending Tour Championship. There he would have a chance to beat Tiger, among others, for the richest prize in golf.
Last year, Garcia entered the playoffs in good form by ending the regular season with a win at the Wyndham Championship. Then he had a tie for third at the Barclays before taking the Deutsche Bank week off. Ultimately, he finished 17th in the playoffs.
After his 63 on Saturday, Henrik Stenson called it a "three-and-a-half day marathon" to be on the back nine on the final round with a chance to win.
Come Labor Day, Garcia is hoping that he is the last man standing in this race. The 2013 FedEx Cup playoffs will not make people forget his bad summer, but it's an important step in his maturation as a player and a man to end his season on a positive note.