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Once again, all Sergio Garcia could do on Sunday was scratch his head. (Photo: Getty Images)
Once again, all Sergio Garcia could do on Sunday was scratch his head. (Photo: Getty Images)

Garcia comes up short of Woods in a major yet again

For Sergio Garcia, Sunday at Hoylake played out in all-too-familiar fashion. With a chance to beat Tiger Woods in a major, the excitable Spaniard fell behind early, struggled to stay in contention and finished the day looking up at the winner.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- Sergio Garcia watched the ball drop into the cup -- finally! -- and thrust both arms skyward.

Unfortunately for the fiery Spaniard, his birdie at the 12th hole came far too late to make any difference.

By then, he was just the guy with a really good view of Tiger Woods on the way to another Open Championship title.

Garcia's hopes of winning his first major championship were crushed Sunday before he even got to the back nine at Royal Liverpool. A couple of three-putt bogeys to get things started. A pair of errant iron shots leading to two more bogeys.

He made the turn at 4-over and with no chance of catching Woods,

"It's a shame," Garcia said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

It usually goes like that for Garcia, who has yet to win a major despite enormous talent that was all too apparent when, as a 19-year-old, he finished one stroke behind Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.

No one figured he'd still be without a title seven years later. But a shaky putter -- there are already whispers around the clubhouse that he's got a bad case of the yips -- was all too apparent as he squandered what may have been his best chance yet.

Garcia was coming off a 7-under 65 Saturday that left him one stroke off the lead and put him in the final group with Woods. He showed up in a bright yellow outfit -- "here comes the banana," one fan said mockingly -- that was a striking contrast to Woods' usual Sunday red.

Right away, it was clear this wasn't going to be Garcia's day. At No. 1, he left his first putt short of the cup and needed a testy 5-footer just to save par. Things got worse at the next two holes, where Garcia missed from 6 and 4 feet for back-to-back bogeys.

Suddenly, he was three strokes behind the greatest closer in golf, his shoulders slumping as he sensed another chance slipping away.

Garcia did make a couple of birdies on the back side and rolled in an eagle putt at No. 16 to finish at 73. His 11-under 277 was seven strokes behind Woods in a tie for fifth.

"I had a couple of three-putts to start with when I thought I hit good putts," Garcia said. "Unfortunately, they didn't go in. And nothing seemed to go my way. I hit a pretty good drive on 5 and it just goes in the bunker. From then on, it was a little uphill."

Garcia missed the green to the right with his approach at No. 8 and couldn't get up and down. Ditto at the ninth, where he put his second shot into a pot bunker along the front right side of the green and watched another par-saving putt slide wide of the cup.

"At least I came back nicely, and that's important," Garcia said. "I'm a bit sad but not disappointed."

He called it an encouraging performance since this year has been a bit of a struggle. He insisted that his play Sunday was lot better than his score. But those both sounded like convenient rationalizations to mask his disappointment.

"I take a lot of positive things from this tournament," Garcia insisted. "I felt really good this week. Today, I had so many good putts. I can't even count how many good putts I hit that didn't want to go in. They just slipped out, or over the edge, a huge lip out at 14.

"That's the way it is. Just keep working."

Maybe it's time to work on a different approach. Garcia played in the last group with Woods at Torrey Pines earlier this year, shot 40 on the front side and wound up in a tie for eighth. With much more on the line, this one had a similar feel.

Garcia insisted that he wasn't intimidated by the world's No. 1 golfer.

"I guess you can say it's a little bit difficult, but I felt calm today," he said. "I probably felt the best I've ever felt in a major with my putting. He just played very solid and stuck to his game plan. He putted lights out. When you putt that well on these difficult greens, you can't do anything."

While both Garcia and Woods repeatedly admonished camera-clicking fans, the Spaniard had no complaints at the end.

"It was an unbelievable crowd," Garcia said. "I was getting bigger cheers than Tiger at some of the holes, and that was amazing for me to experience. That's why this is my favorite event."

But, as they walked off the green at 18, it was Woods holding the claret jug.

All Garcia could do was ponder his next chance to win a major, which comes next month in the PGA Championship -- the same tournament and same course where he almost won seven years ago, thrilling fans with his youthful exuberance and naive bravado.

"I'm happy, because if you had told me I was going to play this well here about two months ago, I probably would have said you were a bit crazy." he said. "I'm looking forward to Medinah -- and now even more because I feel my game is coming along."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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