He had never before in his professional career teed off in a tournament at such an ungodly hour but Spanish superstar Sergio Garcia defied his 4am alarm to shoot 67 and be just one off the lead after the first round at the Australian PGA Championship at RACV Royal Pines Resort.
Garcia’s 5-under par round was the pick of the morning field who were twice delayed by heavy showers before a host of players emerged in the drier afternoon conditions to vault up the leaderboard, Jordan Zunic and Adam Bland finishing the day one clear of Garcia, Marc Leishman, the evergreen Peter Senior and Daniel Nisbet.
Garcia, Adam Scott and Wade Ormsby were met by a crowd of some 300 people on the 10th tee when they teed off at 6.10am on Thursday morning and it took just two holes before the two main tournament drawcards gave the early risers something to cheer about with matching birdies at No.11.
Scott added a second birdie at the next hole after reaching the par-5 3rd in two but it wasn’t until the par-5 third – the group’s 12th – that Garcia began to really catch fire.
A tee shot that he came off once due to movement in the gallery was ultimately pulled left into the trees and when a second shot to get back into position failed to turn back as much as he’d hoped, he was left with a 3-iron from under a tree on the right with his third shot.
That came to rest four metres to the left of the hole and the successful putt for birdie ignited a round that was bogey-free thanks largely to two crucial sand saves early in his round.
“I couldn’t hit straight, there was a branch,” Garcia explained. “If the branch would have not been there, I probably could have hit a straight shot over the tree in front, but because of that I had to hit like a big slice around the big tree in front of me.
“Funny enough, at Valderrama on the seventh hole I had a similar shot like that and I hit 4-iron and a similar yardage, around 190 yards, and I came up a little bit short.
“So I thought, OK, it’s just kind of like the same shot, a little bit clearer. I’ve got one more club, got the 3-iron, and obviously I was hoping to hit on the green or somewhere on the green so I could make par.
“The birdie obviously was a big bonus, but I’ll take it.”
— PGA of Australia (@PGAofAustralia) November 30, 2017
Playing in Australia for the first time since the 2010 Australian Masters, Garcia rose 40 minutes before the sun, tried to not wake his new bride, ate some granola and muesli and headed to the practice putting green at a most unfamiliar time.
“I’ve never teed off at 6.10 in a tournament. Obviously in practice rounds I’ve done it before, but in a tournament I think probably the earliest I’ve teed off I want to say it’s 6.50, maybe 7.00,” Garcia said.
“So that was interesting. It was the closest I’ve had a dinner and a breakfast ever.
“I was impressed how many people were there at 6.10 in the morning.
“I was kind of expecting people to kind of come as they did, they come around. I thought there were going to be like 10 or 12 people on the 10th tee and there were probably I would say at least 200 or 300 people there already at 6.10.
“That was really, really nice to see.”