In the major spotlight once again

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- On Friday, after his 4-under 68 in the second round of the Masters, Sergio Garcia raised the middle finger of his left hand to show reporters the nail fungus that has been plaguing him for almost a year. The finger bleeds when he plays and it was a minor source of agitation for the 32-year-old Spaniard when his round started during the cold morning, but it didn't keep him from going 3-under on his first nine holes with four birdies and a bogey. With two more birdies on the back, he temporarily grabbed a share of the lead at 5-under before dropping a shot at the tough par-4 18th hole.

Garcia is making his 14th appearance in the Masters and 54th consecutive trip to a major championship. No one has a longer streak of consecutive appearances at majors. Despite no victories in the majors, Garcia has 17 top-10s, including seven top-10s at the British Open, where he lost in a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie after leading the tournament through the first three rounds.

His two top-10s at the Masters came in 2002 and 2004, when he shot a 66 in the final round to finish in a tie for fourth. It was his best finish at the tournament. Last year he had a T-7 at the U.S. Open and T-9 at the British Open.

It was at a major, the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, where as a 19-year-old kid he finished second behind Tiger Woods. He had the charisma and flair of his fellow Spaniard, the late Seve Ballesteros.

Last year in his third round at the Masters, Sergio made it to the front page of the leaderboard before shooting a 42 on the back nine for a 3-over 75, which ended his chances of contending on Sunday. He played that day with Angel Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion.

"[Angel] just kind of put his arm around me and said, 'You know, just keep going, don't worry about it, these things happen," Garcia said. "'If you keep going the way you're going, you'll be fine. You'll manage to get through one day.'

"So it was just a nice talk. Obviously at the time it was nice to hear because it wasn't a great moment for me in that round. But you know, hopefully it won't happen this year."

Now Sergio is in the spotlight again at a major, the one where -- as he said on Thursday -- he has "done the worst." Can he beat back the demons and the sordid memories from years past? Can he carry over some of the momentum from the two wins he had late last year in Spain?

Not that anyone ever knows completely what to expect in this very hard game, but Sergio, as he showed with that back-nine 42 in that third round of the Masters, can be completely unpredictable. On the front nine at this year's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, Garcia shot a five-under 31. But then on the back he went par-bogey-birdie-bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey-bogey-triple bogey for an 8-over par 44. For the round he had seven birdies, seven bogeys, and a triple bogey for a 3-over 75.

"It's golf. That's the way it is," is how he explained that torrent of bad holes at Doral.

It's golf. That's the way it is. That sounds like a voice of resignation: a man trying his hardest to find some level of detachment from the game. On Friday, he was again trying not to sound to confident or presumptuous about his future.

"I don't know if I'm ready to win. I'll see. We'll see," Garcia said. "Depends how I play tomorrow, and then it depends how I go out there on Sunday and how I play.

"I wish I could tell you I'm ready to win, but I really don't know. So I'm just going to give it my best try, and you know, hopefully that will be good."

This didn't sound like a player who was once No. 2 in the world or the man with 22 professional wins, including the '08 Players Championship. It doesn't sound like the man who was once stoked to be a major rival to Woods.

But this game engenders doubt in us all. Augusta National and major championships will make the best players in the game doubt their best-laid plans. The mud ball that Sergio had in the 18th fairway Friday thwarted his plans to finish in a tie for the lead with Fred Couples and Jason Dufner.

Bad breaks. That's the game.

On Friday, Sergio was asked if he had the right temperament to deal with everything that comes with the game: the bad breaks, the ups and downs of the weekend at the Masters and the leaderboard twists on Sunday afternoon.

"I'll tell you when I find it," he said. "I think that's the million-dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesn't exist. The guy up top probably has it, but anybody else, I don't think so."

Surely, Sergio wants to be the guy at the top. He's got 36 holes to finally solve that million-dollar question.

Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at evans.espn@gmail.com.