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Sergio Garcia felt like he played well enough to win, but that Padraig Harrington played a little better. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Maturing Garcia feels closer to elusive major

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This one hurts as bad as any of the majors he's come so close to winning. But Sergio Garcia is taking a little solace in the fact that he did everything he could and it just wasn't enough.

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - He was in no mood to discuss the obvious.

Yes, another shot hit the pin in a final round and didn't go in. At least this one stayed on the 15th green. But he pulled the putt.

No, he wasn't going to aim 40 yards to the left of the pin at the 16th. He was going at it and, well, it hit the bank and shot back into the water.

Great putt at 17. It just lipped out. Approach at 18 was dead-on. Just a little a couple of yards short at a hole that ate the field alive.

And, get your facts straight. He didn't have a three-shot lead at the turn. It was only one.

Yes, Sergio Garcia was bit testy as the sun was sliding below the horizon Sunday at Oakland Hills. But this one hurt. It really hurt.

Another chance to define his career, another uh-oh. And the major-in-waiting - the one who's growing yet another stubbly beard - didn't really want to talk about what didn't happen here at the 90th PGA Championship.

Especially when someone asked if he was thinking at the turn that this just might be the day he would win that elusive major.

"Next question, please," he said, shaking his head. "Let's try to keep this as positive as we can, please."

He didn't throw this one away. He didn't - as he did at Carnoustie - serve this one up on a silver playoff platter to Padraig Harrington.

He swung for this one the way he in May did at the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS Championship, when he stuck his tee shot to win the playoff over Paul Goydos. But this time he didn't get to a playoff.

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Instead, he lost a great down-the-stretch battle - ironically, to Harrington.

"Yeah, you know, that's the way it goes," Garcia said. "You know, the good thing about it is I feel good out there. I felt like I played good. I definitely feel like I played well enough to win.

"But unfortunately it didn't happen. So that's pretty much all I can ask myself to do."

Garcia shrugged off a second-round 73 and went for it Sunday. He played 17 holes to finish out his third round and shot 69 to get into the penultimate pairing for the final round where he stepped to the tee trailing Ben Curtis by three shots.

Then he came out throwing everything he could at a rain-softened Oakland Hills,
and the leaders.

The man who laughed his way through the first two days turned stone-cold serious. He birdied the first hole and eagled the second to get their attention. And by the time he walked to the ninth tee, he was tied for the lead. Even with Curtis and three ahead of Harrington.

What followed was one heck of a battle. Not as iconic as Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines two months ago, but a riveting end to the season's final major.

Garcia was paired with Harrington and Curtis was in the group behind them. And while spectators may have felt like it was Garcia vs. Harrington because Harrington chased him down, then the two traded shot after shot, the young Spaniard said that wasn't the case.

"Not at all. Not at all," he said. "Ben was playing well. I could see that he was hanging in there nicely and he had a good start and he hung on tough.

"So I was I wasn't only focused about Padraig. I thought that Ben had a realistic shot at it, too. And he was 2, 3, 4 under there the whole day, and unfortunately he made a couple bogeys coming in like I did, but it was a three man race and Padraig came up on top."

Even Harrington acknowledged the pressure on Garcia's shoulders. He burst onto the scene nine years when he chased a shot down the fairway at Medinah in 1999 and made a run at Tiger for that PGA title. He sprinted here, too - at the 17th when he hit his 5-iron inside Harrington. Again, he came up short.

Garcia has matured exponentially over the years. Even in the last year. At Carnoustie he put the blame everywhere but on his own shoulders. Here, he admitted he'd done what he could and it simply wasn't enough. Not against the second-best player in the world - a man who's now won back-to-back majors and three of the last six majors.

That Harrington wasn't even on the short list six years ago and Garcia was ...
well, that's something that,
at 28,
he has to handle.

"You know, I said it before, there's guys that get a little bit fortunate; they get in contention, in a major, and manage to get things going their way, either because they play well or because somebody else comes back," he said. "And unfortunately, it hasn't happened to me. I feel like I played well enough to win more than probably more than two majors throughout my career.

"Unfortunately, it hasn't happened. That doesn't mean that I'm not in the right track. So I'm looking forward to the challenges, and I just am going to keep giving it my best, and it's just a matter of time."

He's contended now at Carnoustie and Bethpage. At Oakland Hills and Augusta National. He's finished second three times, third twice. He has 14 top-10s in majors.

He's on our clock. But more importantly, he's on his own.

Garcia doesn't want the major count to go farther than the current 0-for-43 as a professional, which must feel more like Phil Mickelson's old 0-for-46 as a professional. He doesn't want to see another shot bounce off a pin or another lead disappear. And he doesn't want to hear those questions that seemingly have no answers.

But now - nine years after that first leap - he knows that he still has a bit to learn. And Oakland Hills provided another piece to his major puzzle.

"I love this course. I think it's a hard course, but it's one that you can learn a lot of things about your self and about your game and stuff," he said. "So it's really testing you at all times, and I think that's what a major championship course should do."

A few minutes later, as he was walking away, we asked what he learned about himself this week.

He didn't have to think about it.

"Patience," he said, forcing a smile. "It's huge in this game."

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