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Sergio Garcia and his caddie Glen Murray had plenty of reasons to smile Friday at Carnoustie. (Warren Little/Getty Images)
Sergio Garcia and his caddie Glen Murray had plenty of reasons to smile Friday at Carnoustie. (Warren Little/Getty Images)

Consistent Garcia inches closer to that elusive first major

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Sergio Garcia insists he's not bothered when people ask him, for what must be the millionth time, when he's going to win a major. And now that he stands once again so close to winning one, the halfway leader at Carnoustie exudes a different confidence.

By Melanie Hauser, Correspondent

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland -- We look at him and still see the kid leaping down the fairway at Medinah in 1999, trying his best to catch Tiger Woods. We hear the impudence in his voice from Bethpage Black in 2002 as he whined about Tiger getting preferential tee times.

We remember him dancing down the fairway at The Belfry five years ago and laying down to celebrate Europe's Ryder Cup victory. We recall the tears from here at Carnoustie Golf Links when he shot rounds of 89-83 in 1999 -- his two worst rounds as a pro.

We listen to him this week and ... well, realize the player atop the leaderboard at this 136th Open Championship isn't that kid any more.

Sergio Garcia is, instead, your early 36-hole leader at the Open. A player whose rounds of 65-71 left him three shots clear of the field midway through Friday's second round and 36 shots better than he was when he made that quick exit from the '99 Open.

This year, he can allow himself to think about playing in Sunday's final group for the second consecutive year. And winning. After all, he has finished in the top 10 in five of the last six Opens.

So does he get frustrated, a reporter asked, when people keep asking him when he'll win a major?

"Never," he laughed. "The first time I heard it."

Right. So when are you going to win that first major?

"I'm always going to say the same thing," he said. "I'm not bothered. I don't really care. I'm trying, I can tell you that. I'm trying to win. I'm trying to win as many majors as I can. I'm trying to give myself good options and good looks at winning majors. That's all I can do.

"Sometimes you play well and you still don't win, and some of the times you don't play maybe as well and you manage to win. Last year I managed to shoot 23 under in the last two majors and didn't win. What can you do? Sometimes you just got to give it up for the guy that does it and there's nothing else you can do, just keep trying."

Garcia has done that. He came into the week playing well -- much better than the first two majors of the year where he missed the cut. He has four top-10 finishes this year.

And here? He had one of those grinding rounds Friday. He hit just nine fairways -- as opposed to 13 Thursday -- and needed 32 putts, not 27 as he did in the opening round.

"I was hoping for a little bit better than what I did," he said. "But that was not a bad round. Every time you shoot on a difficult course, on an Open Championship, you shoot an under-par round or an even-par round, you know you're not too far away. I'm happy with the result overall."

Garcia recently switched to a belly putter, which has given him lot of confidence. And, perhaps, a few digs from other players about switching to the putter for the older crowd.

"I guess it did cross my mind when there was all that talk and everything and I was all happy with my short putter," he said. "I don't know, I guess things change and whatever helps the game."

After missing the cut at the U.S. Open, Garcia turned around and finished T19 at the Barclays Scottish Open last week. Now this.

He came out of the pack late Thursday to shoot that 65 and sleep on the lead. Then teed off early Friday.

"Today, I'm not going to lie, I was a little bit nervous at the beginning because you want to do well, after a good round like I had yesterday," he said. "But then I slowly got into it and then started hitting some good shots. "

He shanked his opening tee shot into the deep rough and had to go over a bunker on his approach. But he stuck it in there and made the putt to save par.

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"I hit a really good chip there," he said. "I wasn't really going to try to go that much at the pin, because I had quite a bad lie. So I was just thinking try and hit it 10, 12 feet right of the hole and see if you can start with a good, solid putt and make a good par. But the club just got tangled a little bit in the high grass and when I saw the way the ball came out, I thought this could be really good.

"When I saw how it bounced I knew it was going to be close. It was a great save to start with. "

He bogeyed the fourth when he came up short of the green and three-putted, then got it back on the sixth when he came out of a bunker to 2 feet for birdie. Then at the 11th he hit a bad 5-iron and bogeyed.

"Other than 11, I felt like I played the back nine very, very well under the conditions." Garcia said. "So it feels good. The belly putter feels miles better under pressure than the short putter has felt. So I just misread a couple of putts today. Other than that it was pretty solid."

Garcia was relaxed and at ease after the round. He joked with reporters about everything from that elusive major to Seve Ballesteros' retirement ("Did he?") to the chilly weather, which is predicted to turn nasty Saturday.

"You've just got to deal with it," he said. "There's nothing you can do about the weather. That's one thing you can't control. I guess it's the same for everybody, you've just got to deal with it and just get around it the best way possible."

The same goes for where you stand on the leaderboard. And, yes, he's comfortable where he is.

"I'd rather be leading than being eight shots back, that's for sure, because you don't feel like you have to push your game to the limit all the time," he said. "So I'm pretty happy the way I'm standing right now.

"Today, it was a nice day for me. I knew that all the eyes were looking at me. It was good to still post a good, solid round and keep myself up there."

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