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Garcia's two wins only a glimpse of what's to come

Garcia only missed one cut in his 16 starts on the PGA TOUR this season.

He had that look about him again, didn't he?

That impish grin. That bounce that has been missing in his step. That go-ahead-and-dare-me attitude on the course.

Those brilliant escapes. Those perfect putts.

It's been a while since we've seen this Sergio Garcia. About three years, if you're counting.

Three long years of long faces and looks that would be enough to snap your head off. Three years of frustration and what felt like a bottomless slump.

It's been a battle, that's for sure. He had to get over the loss of a great love, the disappearance of his game and too many months of that what-the-heck-do-I-have-to-do feeling. He had to have a lot of talks with himself and close friends. He had to be honest and step away for a little while to clear his head and he had to decide to step up as a vice-captain at the 2010 Ryder Cup when he wasn't playing well enough to compete.

He had to face his own doubts.

"I definitely did have doubts," he said last week. "You can ask Luke Donald about it. We had a conversation two years ago.''

And now? Is Sergio back? Sure seems like it, doesn't it?

Two weeks, two wins in Spain. The first by 11 shots, the second by one over a tough guy who just never gives up -- Miguel Angel Jimenez. Two weeks where everything finally fell together and those shots -- like the one with one foot in the pond or the up-and-down from deep rough on the final hole -- were brilliant.

It's not surprising that he passed on the long trip to this week's World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, a tournament he won in 2008. He knows himself well enough to know that would be pushing it after two emotional weeks that put him back into the Official World Golf Ranking's top 20.

He may look like the same engaging 19-year-old El Nino who captured our hearts back at the 1999 PGA, but he's not. At 31, he's finally maturing.

This Sergio has been patient and honest -- with himself. When he didn't make that 2010 Ryder Cup team, he didn't sulk. He asked to be a part of the team. When nothing was working last year, he took time away and played soccer. He realized that golf was a job and his life, well, needed balance.

"I knew I had the game but if your head's not in the right spot, your arms don't do what they're being told to do," Garcia said after Sunday's win at the Andalucia Masters.

We saw signs that Sergio was on the way back early in the year with a couple of quick top-15s. Then came a T12 at THE PLAYERS, a T7 at the U.S. Open and a T8 at the British Open. And a T12 at the PGA.

No real Sergi-uh-o moments. Just steady improvement on all fronts.

"The wins are great," he said, "but the year has been very positive."

Like countrymen Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal before him, Sergio is passionate and that emotion -- no matter where on the spectrum -- is reflected in his game. He's down, so is his game. He's confident and look out. Remember the 2008 PLAYERS?

"I've always been competitive, even when my head wasn't in a great place,'' he said. "I went out to give it 100 percent but I couldn't keep it going. When things started to go a bit wrong, I collapsed and I lost the will to fight. But now I'm enthusiastic again."

He takes breaks during some weeks now to play a little soccer and relax. He has put that painful breakup with Morgan-Leigh Norman behind him and is now with Welsh beauty Nicola Horrex.

He fixed his putting by going to the claw grip. Not elegant, but it has been brilliant under pressure these last two weeks. Most importantly, he seems to be figuring out life.

We hope that means those not-so-pretty sulking moments -- think the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage or 2007 British Open -- are in the past. Back then it was all about passion and emotion, not maturity or any bigger picture.

Now? Well, he's thirtysomething and is finding the best lives are filled with a little perspective.

Sergio has been a black or bright color kind of guy for most of his career. But Sunday, he wore all-white. Peaceful. Composed. Confident. And the beard? Fits, doesn't it? Not full and thick, just the perfect amount of scruff.

The key? We keep going back to that passion. It came flooding back at the Ryder Cup and well, it just took a while to pull everything else together.

Does this mean we'll see him holding the Claret Jug or the U.S. Open trophy or wearing a Green Jacket? Who can predict? Who knew Darren Clarke would finally get his British Open or Charl Schwartzel would make history with birdies on the last four holes to win the Masters?

What we do know is the Sergio we've seen in 2011 seems ready to jump back onto the short list.

The two wins have pushed him to 18th in the Official World Golf Ranking and gotten him thinking about 2012 -- the majors and the Ryder Cup. But this time he's not getting ahead of himself. He's taking the week to relax and reflect on a pair of wins after three years of wandering.

"I'm out of words,'' he said Sunday. "It has been two amazing weeks.''

And, we think, a glimpse of what's still to come.

Photo by Heathcote, Getty Images 

Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR

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