Sergio Garcia's hopes drowned at 17

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Late on Sunday afternoon if you were watching The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, it was easy to envision the feud between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia being settled in a playoff.

You didn't need Bob Arum or Don King to promote the fight. Garcia and Woods had already done their own bidding in a war of words over the weekend that would have pleased Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

After finishing their third round on Sunday morning in a three-way tie for the lead with David Lingmerth, Garcia was more candid about his feelings toward Tiger than perhaps any player has ever been about the 14-time major champion.

"I'm not going to lie," said the 33-year-old Spaniard. "[Tiger] is not my favorite guy to play with. He's not the nicest guy on tour."

On Sunday afternoon in the final round, Tiger played in the group in front of Sergio. By the late evening, a head-to-head meeting between them seemed imminent.

Then Sergio, tied with Tiger at 13-under, hit two balls into the water at the 17th hole, ending whatever hope there was for a final confrontation between the two combatants.

It was a sad coda on the week for Sergio. Had he been able to hit that island green on his first try and make it into a playoff with Tiger and beat him, it would have been a big psychological victory and momentum boost to carry into the remainder of the season and perhaps the rest of his career.

Instead, he leaves Sawgrass a wounded man who lost six shots in his last two holes on Sunday.

Yet Garcia was gracious about his ruin at 17.

"That hole has been good to me for the most part, " said Garcia, who won the 2008 Players in a playoff on the 17th against Paul Goydos. "Today it wasn't. That's the way it is. That's the kind of hole it is. You've got to love it for what it is."

Looking a little stunned at how the last half hour of his round had unfolded, Garcia also said that he wasn't particularly disappointed about not beating Tiger.

"I always said, you want to win every tournament you play in," he said. "And you want to beat everybody in that field. And if [Tiger] is in that field, obviously you want to beat him.

"It's always nice to have a chance at beating the No. 1 player in the world, but unfortunately for me I wasn't able to this week."

This is a very humbling set of events for such a proud man. Sure, Garcia is not the first person to come to 17 at The Players and see his hopes of winning die in the water surrounding the island green. Earlier that afternoon, Jeff Maggert made a double-bogey at the hole after finding the water with his tee shot to end his chances of winning his first event since 2006.

Sergio will get over those water balls and the 76 on Sunday and continue to have success at Sawgrass. But it could be a long time before he gains peace over his skirmish with Tiger.

Nothing hurts like seeing your bitter enemy have success. It might have made the disappointment of not winning easier for Garcia had someone other than Tiger won the tournament.

Sergio says he wants to beat Tiger. After their head-to-head in the third round, Tiger now leads 13-3-4 in the 20 times they have played together, winning nine of those times in 13 tournaments.

Tiger has a spectacular head-to-head record against most players in the game. So Sergio shouldn't feel like his career has been a failure because he couldn't consistently beat one of the best players in the world.

What can he learn from this experience that could help him the next time he faces Tiger in a tournament? If he continues to play well, it's likely he will meet his nemesis later in the year in one of the majors.

For starters, he needs to continue on the solid upward trajectory that he's shown with his game through the season. The Players marks his fourth top 10 finish of the year, which includes a tie for eighth at the Masters. He battled this week through some major distractions to stay near the top of the leaderboard for 70 holes against one of golf's deepest fields.

His putting, which has long been his Achilles' heel, now complements his stellar ball-striking and accurate driving.

Sergio has everything in his arsenal to win a major championship, except the will to take complete responsibility for his actions.

On Sunday afternoon, he said that he had no regrets about anything that had happened relating to Tiger.

"It sounds like I was the bad guy here, " he said. "I was the victim."

But he wouldn't call the feud with Tiger a major factor in the outcome of his week.

"That happened one hole, and obviously everybody saw what happened and that's it," he said. "It really distracted me at that time, then after that you kind of move on and you try to figure things out."

With his win at The Players, Tiger has now won four times in 2013. He is the standard-bearer that he's always been. Everybody on tour that aims for excellence could take a lesson from Tiger's single-minded pursuit of winning golf tournaments.

On Sunday afternoon after hoisting his second Players trophy, Tiger refused to talk about his squabble with Sergio. He chose to focus instead on what he had done to win the tournament. The fight was an afterthought, and that's if it ever garnered much of his attention in the first place.

But it still lingered with Sergio. How fast he dispenses with these demons could determine his future in major championship golf.