Sergio Garcia hits his second shot at No. 15 on Friday during the second round… (David Cannon / Getty Images )
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Sergio Garcia gift-wrapped a headline for snarky websites: "Garcia gives reporter the finger."
OK, a little context. It came after the writer asked about his infected fingernail. Which digit?
"This one," Garcia replied, extending the middle finger of his left hand.
The room cracked up. Garcia grinned.
"I walked right into that one," the reporter said.
Garcia fired a four-under-par 68 Friday to surge into a tie for third in the Masters, one shot back of the leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner, who are at five-under 139.
Tied with Garcia at four under are U.S. Openchampion Rory McIlroy, 2010 British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen, Lee Westwood, who lost the lead with a double bogey on No. 18, and long-hitting left-hander Bubba Watson.
Phil Mickelson made a move to two under with a 68, and Tiger Woods fell eight shots back after a 75.
Garcia shared the lead just long enough for fans to wonder: "Sergio? Really?"
Then he pulled his approach from the 18th fairway into the gallery.
"I had a little bit of a mud ball," he said.
Uh-oh. Was Garcia going to blame the golf gods again, like he did after he blew a three-shot lead in the 2007 British Open at Carnoustie? Was he going to whine about Augusta National like he did in 2009? ("I don't think it's fair. You still get mud balls in the middle of the fairway.")
"It was a bad swing," Garcia added.
One thing that never will change about the Spaniard is his bluntness. When we like what he says, it's refreshing. When we don't, it's whining.
One refreshing part of his media session Friday came after he was asked what kind of temperament is needed to play championship golf.
"I'll tell you when I find it," he replied. "That's the million-dollar question. The right temperament for golf, it doesn't exist. The guy up top probably has it, but anybody else, I don't think so."
Another came when he declined to be Mr. Positive after being asked: "What makes you ready to win?"
"I wish I could tell you I'm ready to win," he replied, "but I really don't know."
The mental gurus would have a field day with this man.
For a while, "El Nino" was considered the best golfer without a major victory. That talk started a few years after the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, where a 19-year-old Garcia executed the famous eyes-wide-shut shot off a tree root right of the 16th fairway.
The tree no longer exists. And Garcia, 32, still hasn't won a major.
But there's hope. He no longer putts as if his eyes are closed. His 52 putts over two rounds is second-lowest in the field to Mickelson's 51.
Despite having the infected finger that Garcia said "bleeds every day I play," he made six birdies Friday on a course where he hasn't registered a top-30 finish since 2004.
He hit a perfect tee shot to a tucked pin on the par-three fourth hole, hammered a three-wood to 18 feet on the par-five eighth and got up and down for birdie on the par-five 15th with a superb bunker shot.
"He's in a very good place," longtime agent Clarke Jones said. "He's happy. He has a great girlfriend."
The relationship with Nicole Horrex has helped Garcia rebound from his breakup with Morgan-Leigh Norman, Greg Norman's daughter.
"When he's happiest off the course," Jones said, "it translates to great play on the course."