Garcia Hoping to Rekindle Rivalry

By Golf Channel NewsroomJune 6, 2003, 4:00 pm
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. (AP) -- Tiger Woods wasn't sure what to make of the spectacle on the 16th hole at Medinah, or the Spanish teenager responsible for it.

His five-stroke lead in the 1999 PGA Championship had been reduced to two when Woods saw Sergio Garcia down the right side of the fairway near a cluster of trees.

'We're on the tee box and I saw him hit the shot,' Woods said.
 
Sergio Garcia'All of a sudden, he started running down the fairway, and we didn't know why. We saw him jump, heard a huge roar on the green. We didn't know what type of a shot it was.'

With his ball nestled among roots, Garcia closed his eyes and gouged a 6-iron out of the trees. He sprinted down the fairway. He leaped like a gymnast in a floor exercise as he reached the top of the hill and saw his ball on the green. He tapped his heart in mock relief.
 
A star was born.
 
'I know they all remember me for that,' Garcia said. 'You can say that was my signature shot. After that, they start remembering me for other things I've done.'

A 19-year-old rookie, Garcia never caught Woods that afternoon outside Chicago. He finished one stroke behind, but won over a gallery who sensed the beginning of a rivalry that would carry golf well into the 21st century.

'When he came out, he was more like Tiger. He already mentally was there,' Ernie Els said. 'He didn't have to learn much. He was cocky enough to believe he could beat you, which is a good thing.'
 
Four years later, Garcia returns to Chicago for another major -- the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields -- with his game a mess and prospects of a real rivalry with Woods in doubt.
 
He has been brilliant and bad, charming and sultry.

The freckle-faced Spaniard has made headlines for beating Phil Mickelson at Colonial for his first PGA Tour victory and knocking off Woods in the made-for-TV 'Battle at Bighorn' exhibition. He has won nine times worldwide, and has been ranked as high as No. 4.
 
He has been criticized for throwing his shoe at the World Match Play Championship in England, nearly hitting a tournament official. He also blamed a rules official in Australia for handing down a two-stroke penalty when Garcia took an improper relief.
 
The kid has passion. It's his best -- and sometimes his worst -- trademark.
 
Some see it as unbridled joy, the way he sprints and skips down the fairway, plays to the gallery and kids around with the guys he is trying to beat.
 
Others see it as antics.

Garcia angered the U.S. Ryder Cup team for running down the 18th fairway at The Belfry when the cup had been decided but matches were still in progress.
 
When Woods took command of the U.S. Open last year in the second round at Bethpage, Garcia said the world's No. 1 player again got the lucky end of the draw -- even though the scoring average showed it was tougher in the morning.

They loved Garcia at Medinah.
 
'It was one of the best weeks,' he said. 'I was in my own little world, up in the clouds.'
 
They heckled him at Bethpage, where Garcia responded with an obscene gesture.
 
'The thing is, those guys are always going to be louder than anybody,' he said. 'Two guys probably make the noise of 15 others.'
 
He comes to Olympia Fields at an important crossroads in his career.
 
Garcia's best finish this year is a tie for 25th among 36 players in the winners-only Mercedes Championships. He has missed six cuts in 11 events on the PGA Tour as he tries to rebuild his swing to get rid of the waggle and rely less on timing.
 
'My career has been pretty good,' Garcia said. 'I've won quite a lot of tournaments in four years, and that's not too bad. Maybe it will be more. I had easily four good chances at the majors. That's pretty good stuff.
 
'But I've got to keep working, and that's why I wanted to do these changes, to be more consistent, so when I get in those positions I don't have to rely on having perfect tempo.'

Change is not easy, especially at age 23, when success has come quickly and easily.
 
Garcia generates enormous power by taking the club outside, then dropping his hands in a buggy-whip fashion. That led to a lag in his swing that relied heavily on timing.

He is trying to get the club more in line and parallel at the top so it points to the target, then reducing the lag to keep the club in front of him on the downswing.
 
'Everyone knew he'd have to make changes in his swing, and he's doing that now,' Woods said. 'It's the same thing I did.'

Woods overhauled his swing after winning the 1997 Masters, a process that took 18 months. He elevated his game to astronomical heights, winning 29 times and seven majors when it all came together.

The key for Garcia is having the patience to stick with it.
 
'It's hard to go, 'OK, we've got to change this.' If it ain't broke, why fix it?' Garcia said. 'But I talked to my dad, and the timing is perfect. Even if we lose this year, the chances of becoming a better player is greater than the chances of ending my career.'
 
Garcia has proven to be up to the task in golf's toughest major championship.

He was one stroke behind going into the final round at Southern Hills, went 12 holes without making a birdie, and shot 77.
 
Last year at Bethpage Black, playing in the final group with Woods, he cut a three-shot deficit to one after the first two holes but never made a run. Garcia closed with a 74 and finished six strokes behind.
 
Still, that's where he wants to be -- playing with Woods on the final day of a major.
 
'When you go to sleep and you have a dream, that's exactly the dream you have -- playing in the last group with Tiger,' Garcia said. 'Usually in dreams, you come out victorious. It would have been a great win.'
 
Garcia is still waiting.
 
It looked like only a matter of time when he stole the show at a major outside Chicago four years ago. This time, it looks like any rivalry with Woods will take time.
 
Related Links:
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    Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

    By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

    Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

    While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

    The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

    So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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    Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

    By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

    The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

    As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

    Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

    And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

    And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

    McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

    The Ryder Cup topped his list.

    Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

    When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

    “Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



    McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

    Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

    “The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

    European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

    And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

    The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

    Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

    And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

    Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

    The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

    The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

    More bulletin board material, too.

    Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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    Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

    The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

    It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

    The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

    “I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

    Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

    Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

    By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

    Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

    At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

    Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

    Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

    “Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

    In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

    “I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

    Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.