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Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia is still trying to get his hands on an elusive first major title. (Franklin/Getty Images)

Decade after his coming-out party, same old questions for Sergio

This is the 10th anniversary of the Tiger Woods-Sergio Garcia duel that seemed to herald golf's next great rivalry for the ages. Now, with his major winless streak at 41, there's no way for Garcia to get by unnoticed.

CHASKA, Minn. (AP) -- Sergio Garcia’s news conferences at the majors are starting to sound like therapy sessions.

There is the critique of his game, usually found to be lacking in some area or another. There are the questions about his psyche, whether golf is as “fun” as it was when he was that fresh-faced teenager with the cool “El Nino” nickname. And then, of course, the big one:

After that spectacular showdown with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship, why has he not won a major already?

“After ’99, I didn’t come home and say, `Oh, because of what I did at the PGA, I should win eight majors in the next six or seven years,” Garcia said Wednesday. “No. You try to play your best and give yourself chances and win as many as you can. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

 “I’ve had my chances,” he added. “Unfortunately, I haven’t taken them, but it’s just a matter of keep going, keep going at it, and believing that you can do it.”

Garcia isn’t even being mentioned as a factor at this week’s PGA at Hazeltine National (one top-10 finish this year will do that to a guy). Unfortunately for him, this is the 10th anniversary of that duel that seemed to herald golf’s next great rivalry for the ages. With his “oh-for-the-majors” streak at 41 and his membership in the up-and-coming ranks long since expired, no way he could get by unnoticed.

“Yeah, I would think so,” Woods said last week when he was asked if he thought Garcia would have won a major by now. “He hasn’t gotten over the hurdle yet, but he’s been there. It’s just a matter of time. Sergio certainly has the talent to do it.”

That’s part of the problem. If he were any but a handful of players, no one would know or care what he’s done in the majors. Stewart Cink certainly wasn’t on the clock before he won the British Open, and no one’s hounding Paul Casey about his lack of a major title.

But Garcia was a phenom, Europe’s answer to Woods. The Spaniard was just 16 when he played his first major, the British Open, and 17 when he won his first professional event. He recorded the low amateur round at the 1999 Masters, then turned pro at 19. He played eight events his first season as a pro, and had top-10 finishes in four of them.

Then came Medinah.

He delighted fans by ripping balls through trees, leaping into the air to see where his shots landed and looking like he was having a grand time. He led after the first round, the youngest player to be atop the leaderboard at the PGA Championship since the tournament went to stroke play in 1958.

After trailing Woods by as many as five strokes on Sunday, a birdie on 13 got him within three. Following his putt, he turned around, looked back at Woods on the tee and tugged his cap as if to say, “Your turn.” When his tee shot on 16 sailed wide right and settled behind the knotted roots of a large oak tree, he grabbed a 6-iron, closed his eyes, swung and then sprinted out to the fairway to watch the ball land on the green.

“When you are a youngster, you don’t care about anything,” Garcia said. “You just play and hit it and find it and you don’t worry about missing a fairway here or missing a green there. You just go along like nothing happened. That’s the beauty of it. That’s what we all try to get back.”

Garcia has been in contention four times since then. He played with Woods in the final group at the U.S. Open in 2002 and again at the 2006 British Open, and with Padraig Harrington at last year’s PGA. He took a three-stroke lead into the final round of the 2007 British, and needed only to make a 10-footer on 18 to win.

Each time, he’s fallen short, often spectacularly so.

“I hesitate to say I’m surprised he hasn’t, because there’s only four a year, and it’s just a lot of things have to go right for you to win a major,” Cink said.

That he can be brattier than a 2-year-old without a nap hasn’t helped Garcia’s cause. He whined about rain and supposed unfairness at Bethpage in ’02, and gave a middle-finger salute to the rowdy New York fans who nicknamed him “Waggle Boy.” After falling apart at Carnoustie, he came across as ungracious when he failed to even mention Harrington, one of golf’s class acts.

He even spit in the cup after three-putting at Doral.

“I still love playing golf,” Garcia said. “Obviously I love it more when I play better.”

By no means has Garcia been a washout. He’s won seven times on the PGA Tour and another 11 events worldwide, and Europe probably wouldn’t have dominated the United States in the Ryder Cup all those years without him.

But as Phil Mickelson can tell him, it’s the majors that matter.

“My game, I’ve been working hard on it. It’s still not where I would like it to be,” said Garcia, who tied for 22nd last week at Bridgestone. “Hopefully I can get it sorted out. If I manage to hit the ball the way I know I can hit it and my short game is in good shape, we could have a good chance here.”
 

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