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The hot weather is no big deal to Sergio Garcia of Spain. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
The hot weather is no big deal to Sergio Garcia of Spain. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Shaking off Carnoustie, Garcia starts strongly at PGA

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Anyone curious about Sergio Garcia's emotional state need only check the leaderboard at Southern Hills Thursday. If not for a couple of missed reads on his last two holes, Garcia would be right with the leaders. Even so, he's only five back.

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Between his suitcases and clubs, Sergio Garcia had no room for emotional baggage.

Giving away the Open Championship ruined Jean Van de Velde. Last anyone remembers him, the Frenchman was standing in a creek at Carnoustie. Colin Montgomerie's major disappointment did a number on him, too. Since coughing up the U.S. Open at Winged Foot, he's missed the cut at every major -- the longest dry spell of his career.

For anyone thinking Garcia was headed down that same road, well, check out the leaderboard at the PGA Championship.

If not for a couple of missed reads on his last two holes Thursday, Garcia would be right with the leaders at Southern Hills. Still, with an even-par 70, he was only five shots behind leader Graeme Storm.

"On a scale of 100, there were probably 95 positive things and five negative things. So you can't forget about a week that is so positive," Garcia said of Carnoustie, where his name was all but engraved on the claret jug until he missed a 10-foot par putt on 18. He lost to Padraig Harrington in a playoff.

"The British, even though I didn't win, it's going to be good for me in the future," Garcia said. "Just getting in that position and holding the lead for three days at the biggest tournament we have. So that definitely is going to help me throughout my career."

That's a far rosier outlook than he had at Carnoustie, where he whined about his bad breaks so loudly and annoyingly, Al Davis and NBA coaches were taking notes.

And more than a few wondered how long the hard luck hangover would last.

This, after all, is the guy who was supposed to challenge Tiger Woods major for major after making a splash at the 1999 PGA Championship. So far, though, his biggest title is "best player never to win a major," and disappointments like the one Garcia had at Carnoustie have haunted other players.

But there he was Thursday, at the top of the leaderboard for much of the morning. Those two late bogeys brought him back to the pack, but the triple-digit afternoon temperatures and fickle wind made par a more-than-respectable effort.

"Overall, not a bad round," Garcia said. "Nice way of throwing a good round in the trash with two bad reads in the last two holes."

Starting on the back nine, the Spaniard sprinted to the top of the leaderboard with three straight birdies on Nos. 11, 12 and 13. He had birdie chances on the next three holes, too.

"I could have been easily 4 or 5 under through seven," Garcia said. "There were good pins out there that if you manage to hit in the fairway, you can attack."

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Tulsa feels more like Thailand this week. Not even a Woods sighting can budge the fans who stake out spots under trees, and players are drenched in sweat.

Even Garcia, raised on Spain's Mediterranean coast, was feeling the heat.

"It's not as hot in Spain. Not as humid, either," he said. "You're constantly sweating, so you have to dry yourself, dry your arms, your hands, the grip, and 15 seconds later, you're sweating again.

"So it's not easy. It takes a lot of time to get ready."

So much so that Garcia's group was put on the clock when they made the turn.

Garcia, Geoff Ogilvy and Tom Lehman were warned on the 16th hole to pick it up. By the time they got to the No. 1 tee, the group ahead of them was out of sight.

"We tried, but at the same time, it's not just that you have to dry yourself. It's that there's a lot of holes where two greens are close to each other, so you have to wait for the other guys," Garcia said.

"The (birdie) putt I missed on 16, I probably missed it because I rushed it a little bit, tried to hit it before Hunter Mahan. He was on 13."

Spacing was one of the things that raised Garcia's ire at Carnoustie -- he had an extended wait before his second shot on 18 in the final round -- and the news Thursday that his group was on the clock prompted an animated discussion with a rules official as he walked down the No. 1 fairway.

After venting, though, he got right back on his game.

He ran into some trouble on No. 4. In the left rough off the tee, he flew the green with his second shot. He made a gorgeous chip that stopped 3 feet from the hole, but couldn't get up-and-down when his par putt ricocheted off the back of the cup.

Bad break, but he got the stroke right back with a birdie on the par-5 No. 5.

"I recovered nicely throughout the back nine," he said. "Then, unfortunately, I just didn't have a great finish."

And he wasn't blaming anybody but himself.

He said he misread putts on Nos. 8 and 9. On the ninth, he had less than 5 feet to the hole and thought the ball was going to go straight. It broke right instead, missing the cup by inches.

There was no time for sulking, though. He knows the only way he'll ever win a major is if he keeps giving himself chances.

"Under the conditions, 2 under would have been great; 70 is not a bad round," he said. "I just have to get out there (Friday), have another good round and get myself in good position."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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