Older and wiser, Garcia seeks that elusive first major
In the years since the 1999 PGA Championship, Sergio Garcia has six PGA Tour victories and has led Europe to two Ryder Cup wins despite a suspect putting game. But if greatness is defined by majors, he is still trying to find it.
MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- Back at the site of one of his greatest moments, Sergio Garcia couldn't resist the urge: He just had to visit that tree.
So earlier this week, he walked over to the oak on the 16th hole at Medinah Country Club and found the spot where he unleashed that memorable shot seven years ago.
"I remember three or four weeks ago, before coming in here, they were telling me that the tree was struggling a little bit and they've had to overseed that little spot because everybody's been hitting from it," Garcia said Wednesday. "It definitely looks a little different than it was seven years ago."
One thing that hasn't changed: Garcia is still seeking his first victory at a major, and he hopes to fix that this week when the PGA Championship returns to Medinah.
"If I think about it realistically, I think it's a good career so far," the 26-year-old said.
Back in '99, Garcia was a 19-year-old phenom playing in only his second major as a pro. He led after the first day, was two back going into the last round, but fell behind by as many as five shots before making his charge.
Down two strokes to Tiger Woods, Garcia's chances seemed dead when his tee shot on 16 sailed to the right and settled at a knot of tree roots. Then came the signature shot of the tournament, and a reaction that showed his age.
He grabbed a 6-iron and ripped a sweeping fade with his eyes shut. As the ball sailed toward the green, Garcia broke into a full sprint and did a scissors kick at the top of the hill, straining to see where the ball landed.
"It was definitely one of the best shots of my career," he said. "It was just short of what I wanted, but it was definitely one of the best shots I've hit."
Woods had just approached the 16th tee and wasn't really paying attention until he saw Garcia's mad dash.
At that point, Woods figured the shot was either "really good or really bad." Then, he heard the crowd roar and knew the pressure was still on.
Garcia saved par. Woods hung on to win by one stroke, after going 10 majors without a victory.
The anticipated rivalry between the two? It's still anticipated.
In the seven years since, Woods has won nine majors to bring his total to 11. Garcia is 0-for-29, with 11 top-10 finishes as a pro.
"He's come close on several occasions, and it's just a matter of doing the right things at the right time," Woods said. "But he's put himself there. You put yourself there enough times, you're going to get it done. Probably, there's no better example of that than Phil [Mickelson] right now."
Mickelson was about two months shy of his 34th birthday when he broke through and won the 2004 Masters. He took last year's PGA Championship and won again at Augusta this year.
"It's nice that I was able to pass the mantle to somebody," Mickelson joked. "I'm sorry he has to take it over."
Garcia has six victories on the PGA Tour and has led Europe to two Ryder Cup wins despite a suspect putting game. But if greatness is defined by majors, Garcia still is trying to find it. The path winds by Woods.
The two were matched in the final round of this year's British Open at Hoylake, with Woods holding a one-stroke lead. Garcia dropped out of contention with bogeys on four of the first nine holes, and finished tied for fifth. Woods won the title.
They were paired for the last round of the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, though Garcia was four strokes behind. Woods won that one, too.
"You're only thinking about one guy that has done something unbelievable, very difficult to repeat, and you expect everybody else to do the same," Garcia said. "It's not easy to go out there and win a major when you're young and even when you're in your 20s. You know, Tiger has been able to do that plenty of times, and you expect everybody else to do the same."
Woods feels fortunate that he won his first major early on and doused those questions. Now, Garcia is back at Medinah, back at the site of that great moment.
He stepped back in time this week. Now, he'll try to take a big leap forward.
"It's just a matter of keep putting yourself in that position, keep learning about it, keep going through the emotions [that] go around at that certain time, and feel more and more comfortable when you're in that position," Garcia said.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.