SANDWICH, England (AP) -- And to think that six weeks ago, Sergio Garcia wasn't even eligible for the U.S. Open or Open Championship.
LONG TIME COMING:
The 31-year-old Spaniard changed his mind and entered the 36-hole U.S. Open qualifier, not only getting into the field at Congressional but finishing in a tie for seventh.
Then he got into the Open Championship at the last minute, when he lost a playoff in the BMW International Open in Germany. His earnings in Germany, along with what he won in the U.S. Open, was enough to finish among the top two on a special money list for players not already exempt. He put that to good use Sunday, closing with a 68 to finish among the top 10.
That should be enough to make him eligible for his first World Golf Championship of the year next month at Firestone.
It's safe to say his fortunes are changing.
"It's great," Garcia said. "I think the U.S. Open and Munich were very, very important because that was my last chance to get here. I've said it over and over again, this is my favorite championship of the year."
CASHING IN: Thomas Bjorn, Anthony Kim and Simon Dyson needed a few breaks just to get into the Open. Once there, they made the best of their good fortune.
All three players were alternates, needing other players to withdraw before they could get in. In Bjorn's case that didn't happen until Monday night, when Vijay Singh withdrew.
Bjorn got in only one practice round, but promptly went out to shoot 65 and share the first round lead. He finished the tournament in fourth place, four shots back, and cashed a check for $419,416.
Kim was in contention in the final round, too, finishing tied for fifth for a $293,054 payday. And Dyson finished tied for ninth, pocketing $168,304.
Darren Clark went 54 starts in the majors -- and 20 in the Open -- before finally winning one. That wasn't the longest stretch of futility, though.
Tom Kite holds the record by playing in 72 majors before winning his first one in 1992 at the U.S. Open. Mark O'Meara played in 59 majors until winning the Masters in 1998. O'Meara then won the Open Championship that summer, and he remains the oldest player to win two majors in one year.
Maybe that will be Clarke's next target.
"Can I say that's it? I'm going to retire now? I can't," Clarke said. "I don't just want to rest on this. I want to keep on going, keep on working on what I'm working on because my golf was obviously very good this week, albeit it was links and links does suit me. But I still feel as if I can compete with the best players in the world, and that's what I want to do."MAJOR EXEMPTIONS:
Thomas Bjorn didn't get his full redemption at Royal St. George's. But at least he got in as an alternate. And he played well enough to finish in fourth place. That not only is enough to make him exempt for the Open next year, but the top four also get into the Masters.
It will be his first time to the Masters in five years.
The top 15 return to the Open next year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.
That will be good news for Chad Campbell and Davis Love III, who had to go through a qualifier near Dallas that was reduced to 18 holes this year because of weather. It also helps Simon Dyson, who was an alternate, and George Coetzee, who played in his first Open after winning the last spot in the England-based qualifier.SOMETHING IN COMMON:
Phil Mickelson had to settle for his seventh runner-up finish in a major, although there was some consolation in seeing Darren Clarke on his way to his first major championship.
Clarke's wife, Heather, died of breast cancer in August 2006, just a month before the Ryder Cup in Ireland. Nearly three years later, Mickelson's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"He was one of the first people that called us, Amy and I, a couple years ago," Mickelson said. "He's been through this and couldn't have been a better person to talk to. We talked for a few hours a couple of times. He's a tremendous person and a very good friend, and I couldn't be happier for him. It was fun to try to make a run at him."
Mickelson's wife is doing better. She walked with him at Torrey Pines this year, then at the Masters, and after a quick vacation to Paris with the kids, came to the final round at Royal St. George's.
Mickelson said Clarke essentially told him what to expect during his wife's recovery process.
"I mean, he's been through it all, and so I was very appreciative of the time we spent," Mickelson said.
Clarke likes to keep private conversations just that, although he made clear how much the Mickelsons have meant to him. At the 2006 Ryder Cup, when Clarke walked into the opening and closing ceremonies without an escort, Amy Mickelson walked between Mickelson and Clarke to be with both of them so that Clarke wouldn't walk alone.
"Phil has been through an awful lot with Amy, and we have spoken quite a lot," Clarke said. "He has turned into a very good friend of mine through thick and thin, and he said some very, very kind words to me there after the thing, which is great. And Amy is looking fantastic, as well."CHUBBY'S CHASERS:
Chubby Chandler of International Sports Management is having quite a run when it comes to major championship winners. He got one at the U.S. Open in Rory McIlroy and added another when Darren Clarke won the Open.
Clarke has been with Chandler since turning pro more than two decades ago, so the major was a long time coming.
"He's had to work hard for his money looking after me," said Clarke, who turned to Chandler at the trophy ceremony and said, "I can't thank you enough for everything you've done for me through thick and thin."
None of Chandler's clients had won a major championship until Louis Oosthuizen won the Open last year. Then Charl Schwartzel followed with a win at the Masters and McIlroy won the U.S. Open.
In all, Chandler clients have won four of the last five majors.CLARKE'S TEXTS:
Tiger Woods reached out and offered some advice to Darren Clarke on how to handle the pressure chasing his first major championship.
Clarke called the texts sent after Saturday's third round brilliant, though he wasn't saying what they said.
"That's personal and private between the two of us," Clarke said. "I'm not going down that road at all."
Clarke was a bit more open about the texts he got from Rory McIlroy. They, he said, were similar to the texts he sent McIlroy as he went after the U.S. Open title last month at Congressional Country Club.
"Sort of "be patient" with Rory and 'keep doing what you're doing, keep playing the way you're playing,'" Clarke said. "He was sort of telling me the same things I said back to him. As opposed to me being the old wise one and he was trying to give me all the information. So it was different."
The advice apparently worked, as Clarke won the Open by three shots.