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Garcia returns to Kapalua with big first round

Sergio Garcia walks off the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 18th green after finishing the first round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions on Thursday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAPALUA — Back at the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time since 2006, Sergio Garcia made it look like no time had passed at all.

Garcia fired a 6-under-par 67 in Thursday’s first round, leaving the veteran Spaniard two shots out of the lead and in a tie for third place with five others.

He is back at the Kapalua Plantation Course after a 15-year absence, matching the longest break between appearances in the 79-year-old tournament, a record previously set by Robert Gamez (1991 to 2006).

Garcia won here in his first try at the Plantation Course, outdueling David Toms in a playoff in 2002.

“Yeah, I remember it was my first year here, so obviously really nice to be able to win on your first try,” he said after his round Thursday. “I remember I played really, really well on Sunday. I played better as the week went on and played really, really well on Sunday, obviously made a couple, made a clutch putt on 18 to give myself a shot at being in the playoff with David Toms and then the putt I made (to win).”

Sergio Garcia lines up his chip shot on the 18th hole Thursday.

He shot 9-under 64 on the final day of the 2002 event, which was still three days short of his 22nd birthday. Garcia, who turns 41 on Saturday, chuckled at the thought.

“I was doing an interview the other day and they showed me a couple of clips of those putts and, yeah, I looked really young which was nice,” he said. “But, yeah, it was fun, it was fun to recall some of those memories.”

He played here four times in a five-year span, which ended in 2006, and he hadn’t been back since. Now, the 2017 Masters champion is back with a family — wife Angela watched as he did his interview outside the media room. The couple have two children, Azalea Adele and Enzo Akins.

The Spaniard got here with a win in the Sanderson Farms Championship in October.

“No, it’s great. I’ve obviously, I had the possibility of coming way before this year, but being in Europe it’s a very long way away to come for maybe one or two weeks,” he said. “So this year it was a little bit easier because we were in Austin (Texas) because of everything that’s going on in the world and it made it a lot easier for me and the family to be here and just have a nice couple of weeks. So it’s great to be back and hopefully can keep playing good.”

He bogeyed the first and third holes before chipping for an eagle from just off the front of the green on the 526-yard fifth.

“Well, obviously didn’t have the best of starts, just didn’t hit a great shot on the first, three-putted and obviously just a little mistake on the green, but yeah … the chip-in on five for eagle was big to kind of get me back in the right frame of mind and then I started to hit some good shots, roll in some good putts, which is always nice,” he said.

He birdied the 541-yard, par-5 15th before parring the final three holes.

“Just a little bit of a shame the last two holes, a couple mud balls there that probably cost me a shot here or there, but other than that … it was a good round after the start,” he said.

The Plantation Course underwent a $10 million refinement prior to last season, and Garcia likes the difference from the last time he was here.

“The course is definitely playing a lot slower than it used to last time I played here, the few years I played here,” Garcia said. “But I think it’s a combination of the rain and how the course is, it’s a lot greener, a lot lusher than it used to be, but the essence of the course is still the same and obviously a course that gives you room — you still have to hit shots in the right spots and if you don’t, then it becomes tricky.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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