ATLANTA -- Back in April, it was harder to imagine a bigger story in golf than Sergio Garcia's breakthrough major victory at the Masters.
Five months later, with the PGA Tour back in Georgia for the Tour Championship, the 37-year-old Spaniard barely registers among the storylines at East Lake. He's the first reigning Masters winner not brought in for a pre-tournament interview since Angel Cabrera in 2009.
"Obviously my game hasn't been amazing the last two months," said Garcia, shrugging off his under-the-radar status this week as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson try to add another feather in their player-of-the-year campaigns.
Garcia won't even rubber-stamp endorse 2017 as the greatest year of his life -- at least from a purely golfing standpoint. But factoring in his travels with the green jacket, including his wedding reception, he concedes satisfaction.
"It's obviously been ... yeah, you could probably say it's been a really amazing year for sure," Garcia said Wednesday as he practiced at East Lake in front of a handful of fans who happened to be there as he walked by. "Everything that's been going on on and off the golf course. I've had some other really nice years but this one probably bigger things have happened."
It took a determined effort for Garcia just to make it to East Lake. After skipping the first playoff event and finishing T35 in the second one in Boston, Garcia slipped from 22nd to 34th in the FedEx Cup points list that determines the top 30 players who qualify for the Tour Championship.
He needed a strong finish at last week's BMW Championship to move back up and it boiled down to a dramatic finish that required a ruling more drawn out than Spieth's at the Open Championship.
Garcia needed to make par on the par-5 finishing hole after hitting his second shot into the hazard. He contemplated playing a bank shot off the rocks before getting a drop inside the hazard because a grandstand would be in the way of his ricochet. By the time it was over and his final hole took 40 minutes to complete, Garcia got up and down for his par to secure his spot.
"If I would have made 6 then I would have had a bigger chance of not getting to Atlanta, so I'm glad that we're able to make 5," Garcia said. "I was feeling bad for the people behind me and for Phil (Mickelson) because they were waiting but it was an important moment and I wanted to make sure I would do what was best for me at that time and obviously within the rules and that's what we did."
The experience was the latest illustration of how Garcia has matured into a more relaxed veteran able to take things in stride. His new wife, Angela Akins, has been given a lot of credit for bringing him an inner peace that helped lift him to his first major win after so many hardships that left him wondering if it would ever happen.
"I think I still need to get better at it," Garcia said. "Obviously with age everything comes with patience and things like that. But you still have moments where you wish you can control yourself a little bit better and kind of relax a little bit more and realize sometimes things don't go exactly the way you planned with something. Not everything has gone right. I've had moments where I would have like to have done better things on the course and stuff like that. But I do have to say that this year has been very, very positive in most of the things."
Getting to East Lake was a big goal. Only twice in the previous 16 times since the Tour Championship started coming to Bobby Jones' home course has the reigning Masters winner not qualified -- Charl Schwartzel in 2011 and Danny Willett last year. In the early years after the Tour Championship was first established in 1987, several European Tour members who won in Augusta (Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Bernhard Langer and Jose Maria Olazabal) weren't eligible for the PGA Tour's season finale based on the official money list.
Garcia said he didn't feel any extra pressure as the Masters winner to qualify.
"Every year you want to get here because if you get here you know you've had a very solid year," said Garcia, who is playing in his ninth Tour Championship and twice finished runner-up including a playoff loss to Camilo Villegas in 2008 at East Lake. "So maybe you think as the Masters champion you want to make it here, but it is what it is and I'm sure there's many years where the Masters champion is not going to make it here. Overall, it's just nice to make it here every year."
Garcia last qualified for East Lake in 2014, so he hasn't played it since they switched the nines to finish on a par 5 instead of a par 3.
"I think it's a bit more of an exciting finish and if that was the goal it's perfect," he said as he played the new 11th hole Wednesday. "It was a good idea and I like it. For me it's tough because I'm still thinking this is the second hole so I have to get my head around it."
Ten of the previous 30 Tour Championship have been won by players who own green jackets, but only once has the reigning Masters winner won the season finale in the same year -- Spieth in 2015. Tiger Woods (2005) and Zach Johnson (2007) finished runner-up to cap years they won at Augusta and Vijay Singh (2000) finished third.
Garcia believes with the form he found last weekend he might have one last moment to attract the spotlight in the U.S. before he wraps up an eventful 2017 playing in Europe, Asia and Australia. Garcia shot 3-over 73 in the first round Thursday with just two birdies, three bogeys and a double bogey.
"These are the kind of courses I like," he said of demanding courses like East Lake. "When my game is on I usually do fairly well on these."
This article is written by Scott Michaux from The Augusta Chronicle, Ga. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.