With an 11-shot win Sunday at the Castello Masters in Spain, Sergio Garcia demonstrated the graceful and effortless power that first got the golf world's attention when, as a 19-year-old kid, he finished second behind Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.
Who can forget Garcia's searing glance at Woods after making a long birdie putt at the par-3 13th at the Medinah Country Club in Chicago or the brave recovery shot that he made from behind a tree at the 16th hole? Those were supposed to be moments that would foretell the main rivalry in the game for the next decade.
But it didn't turn out that way. Tiger would go on to dominate golf in a way that no one had ever seen, winning 12 majors since that Sunday evening at Medinah. Garcia would surely make his presence known. He has won seven times on the PGA Tour, including the 2008 Players Championship and now nine times on the European Tour.
But looming in Tiger's rearview mirror for his entire career has been a kind of burden for Garcia, who has never been afraid to let us in on his sometimes fragile state of mind and feelings of inadequacy at not quite living up to his potential. After losing to Padraig Harrington in a playoff at the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie, he displayed hints of paranoia.
"It's funny how some guys hit the pin and go to a foot," Garcia said. "Mine hits the pin and goes 20 feet away.
"You know what's the saddest thing about it?" he said. "It's not the first time. It's not the first time, unfortunately. So, I don't know, I'm playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field."
A year later, after a breakthrough win at the Players on a tough TPC Sawgrass layout, he playfully thanked Woods, who was out with an injury, for not being in the field.
Some of that doubt has been lifted over recent years as he has stopped placing so much pressure on himself. After two years of really mediocre play, he humbled himself last year by taking the once unthinkable role of vice captain at the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor after playing in five straight cups.
It's probably too soon to tell if the scars have fully healed. But his win this week should go a long way in dispelling doubts that he still has a world-class game. There had already been signs this year that he was back in top form. He had a tie for seventh at the U.S. Open and a T-9 at the British Open. In June, he lost in an epic five-hole playoff to countryman Pablo Larrazabal at the BMW International Open in Munich.
Playing in front of his home crowd at the par-71 Club de Campo del Mediterraneo in Castellon, the 31-year-old Spaniard had rounds of 67-63-64-63 for a four-day total of 27-under par. His final-round 63 included nine birdies. Gonzalo Fernandez of Spain had a 64 in the final round to finish second. This was Garcia's first win anywhere in the world since the 2008 HSBC Championship and his second win at Castello, his home course.
"There are things that I can still improve on," said Garcia, who last played on the PGA Tour at the BMW Championship in September. "The good thing is that the short game is working good and my ball striking is fairly good."
After his closing birdie at the 72nd hole, Garcia said that the win was for Seve Ballesteros, who succumbed to a brain tumor in May. It was a fitting tribute. Ballesteros had been the shepherd who had been the impetus for Garcia and many other Spaniards to seek glory on golf's highest stages. Now Seve would be the one to symbolize a new path for one of his dearest disciples.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.