Meanwhile, Sergio Garcia Plays Poker in Paradise

While the 2011 PGA Tour season began Thursday with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on the paradisical Plantation Course at Kapalua, another kind of Paradise was in the cards for Sergio Garcia.

The field in Hawaii was limited to 2010 PGA Tour winners, so Señor Garcia didn't qualify, however the spirited Spaniard did qualify for a different sort of tournament... a poker tournament.

The popular professional golfer... still affectionately referred to as El Niño... got ready to celebrate his 31st birthday yesterday at the Atlantis Resort and Casino on Paradise Island in The Bahamas, by playing Texas Hold'em at the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure .

Garcia, who in 2008 was ranked second in the world, has had some well-documented... um... issues with golf of late, culminating in a two month hiatus from the sport last fall.

Well, it seems he may have spent some of his self-imposed sabbatical honing his poker skills, because at Atlantis,  he was one of 28 players who won their way into day 1A of the Main Event.

"It is good fun and it is all a learning process for me" Sergio explained to CardPlayer 's Ryan Lucchesi when he was eliminated at the end of level 4.  And he made it quite clear that this foray into the world of high stakes poker did not signal career change when he added, "I know what I do for a living and that is playing golf. I don’t forget that."

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