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Sergio Garcia throught his opening round could have been a few shots better. (Photo: Getty Images)
Sergio Garcia throught his opening round could have been a few shots better. (Photo: Getty Images)

Decade after his debut, Garcia is still seeking a big title

Ten years after he made his Open Championship debut at age 16, Sergio Garcia knows he hasn't yet blossomed into the major champion that everyone expected he would become. An opening 67 is giving him lots of hope this week, though.

HOYLAKE, England (AP) -- Sergio Garcia knows that he's still not the player everybody expected him to become.

At 26, there's every chance he could still become one of golf's greats. But the potential he showed at 16 is still just that. Potential.

Garcia shot a 4-under 68 in the Open Championship on Thursday. But the fact he could easily have turned it into a championship-leading round was frustrating.

"Definitely I know that I still have to work on my game," he said after the round that left him two strokes behind surprise leader Graeme McDowell.

"Don't get me wrong. It's a very nice round, but I'm still not fully satisfied," he added. "I feel like there's two or three shots that I still could get a lot better with. So that's good, because there's room for improvement."

That's been the case with Garcia for years.

When he played in his first major as a 16-year-old amateur, the 1996 Open at Royal Lytham, there were signs of his potential even though he missed the cut. A year later, at Royal Birkdale, he began with a round of 69 and tied for 28th.

Since then, he has had 10 top-10 finishes in the four majors, including a one-stroke loss to Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship as a 19-year-old in his first season as a pro.

That was supposed to be the start of a great rivalry. Since then Woods has won eight more majors and Garcia is still waiting to fulfill the promise he most definitely had.

This year has been another letdown for the Spaniard. Although he finished two strokes behind Chris DiMarco at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in January, he hasn't come close to adding to his 12 tournament victories on the PGA Tour and European Tour.

But he feels he's not far away.

"I did enjoy the way I drove the ball today for the most part of the day," he said after collecting five birdies at Royal Liverpool.

"I think I only missed the 14th and 17th fairways and the 17th was only missed by three feet so that was nice too see. Hopefully I can keep doing the same thing and hit a lot of the greens. That's always important in major championships.

"And, if I roll the potato nicely, that would be good."

Taking advantage of cooler conditions, he "rolled the potato" nicely for the first nine holes to reach the turn in 3-under 32.

But he failed to take advantage of the second easiest hole on the course, the 534-yard, par-5 10th. After a good second shot to 30 feet from the flag, he rolled his first putt 5 feet past the hole and missed the return putt for a par.

"It definitely took a bit of momentum out of my [round] because I was playing nicely," said Garcia. "I hit a very poor [second] putt so that wasn't great. At least I finished strongly and I am pretty happy with the round."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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