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Sergio Garcia has a chance to shake off years of major frustration. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sergio Garcia has a chance to shake off years of major frustration. (Photo: Getty Images)

Garcia gets another chance to topple Woods in a major

Sergio Garcia hasn't fared well when facing Tiger Woods with major titles on the line, but he's got another shot at a big breakthrough. He tees off Sunday having played as well as anyone in the field, but still must overcome his history.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- The waggles are gone, and anyone who has ever watched Sergio Garcia play should be grateful for that. Garcia should be, too, because one burden is enough for him to lug around Royal Liverpool in the final round of the Open Championship.

Waggles, he can fix. He's fixed them so well that he didn't flinch once before hitting a 9-iron into the cup on the second hole Saturday on his way to a 65 that left him just a shot off the lead.

Unfortunately for Garcia, that lead is held by a guy who will be wearing a red shirt alongside him in the final group on Sunday. And so far Garcia doesn't seem to have a clue about what to do about fixing his problems with Tiger Woods.

If he's going to win his first major, he better figure it out quick. If Garcia doesn't, it may be a long time before he has a chance this good.

Whether Garcia sensed that after vaulting into contention with a 29 on the front side in the third round was hard to say. He was hustled in and out of the interview area in less time than it would have taken him to hit a shot in his days as a waggler.

But maybe it was better that way. Maybe he didn't want to be reminded that any road to stardom in golf always figured to go through Woods.

And surely he didn't want to be told once again that no one figured it would take this long.

"I'm looking forward to it," Garcia said. "I did what I had to do to give myself a chance."

Against Woods, that's not enough. When he has the lead after the third round in major championships, he wins.

Not just sometimes. Always.

He did it in 1999 when he won the PGA Championship even as a 19-year-old with the nickname El Nino pranced his way down the fairway and pointed a putter at him to let Woods know the game was on.

And he did it at the U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2002 when Garcia obediently picked up a divot Woods made on the third hole, and then just as obediently folded his game up

Garcia might have had an excuse for that one. He likely had been up much of the night writing Woods a letter of apology for suggesting that because he was Tiger he got all the preferential tee times.

That didn't exactly endear Garcia to Woods, whose relationship with the Spaniard is frosty at best. Garcia didn't help his cause when he pouted after a 66 in the Masters a few years ago that everyone was following Woods and that maybe other players should get more respect.

And when Garcia acted like had just won the, well, Open Championship, after beating Woods in a made-for-television event, that was pretty much it.

Woods, of course, wouldn't let on to that after the third round, allowing that Garcia must have played a fine round to shoot 65 and that it would be a fine day Sunday on the links. That's the way Woods talks in public, even when he has a lot more to say behind closed doors.

Woods, you see, has a long memory when it comes to making amends. And he has his own way of dealing with people he feels have slighted him.

Just ask Stephen Ames, who Woods trounced, 9 & 8, in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship earlier this year after Ames suggested he had a good chance to win because Woods was spraying the ball off the tee.

Woods, of course, has more to worry about than Garcia. Chris DiMarco and Ernie Els are also both a stroke back, and Jim Furyk is only two behind on a course where there are plenty of birdies for the making.

And those three 3-putts on the back nine Saturday had to leave him feeling a bit uncomfortable.

"It's not just Sergio and myself," he said. "There are a bunch of guys up there."

Still, this could get personal, and it could get ugly. Garcia had a deer-in-the-headlights look the last time the two played together in the final round at Bethpage four years ago, and though he has proven himself able to close the deal in six PGA Tour wins, they haven't been with Woods in contention.

Luckily for Garcia, this isn't Bethpage, where the New York fans taunted him with yells of "whiner" and "waggle boy," and counted loudly as he waggled his way around the course. Open fans are reserved to a fault, greeting almost everything with polite applause or muted shouts of encouragement.

Garcia will need all the encouragement he can get. The pressure is on for him to finally achieve the high expectations thrust on him from the time he first played the Open as a 16-year-old amateur. The pressure to beat Woods will be even greater.

If Garcia can stand up to both, he has a chance to finally call himself a major champion.

If not, he may find himself chasing after Woods the rest of his career.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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