Garcia Becoming Next Mickelson

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2008 US Open 81x90BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' Sergio Garcia packed his bags and headed for the parking lot at Oakland Hills, leaving behind another season without a major and facing eight long months until his next opportunity.
 
The question is how much baggage he carried between the ears.
 
The PGA Championship was his third runner-up at a major, and it doesnt take much effort to find one moment that could have made all the difference, either a shot by Garcia or by the players who beat him.
 
Padraig Harrington took only 11 putts on the back nine, including three on the last three holes that were a combined 40 feet. Garcia chunked a chip on the par-5 12th that eliminated an easy birdie when he was leading by two. He hit 6-iron into the water on the 16th with a one-shot lead. And he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the 17th that gave Harrington his first lead all day.
 
Equally painful are memories of a 10-foot par putt last year on the 18th hole at Carnoustie to win the British Open. Garcia missed it by a fraction of an inch, and Harrington went on to win the four-hole playoff.
 
Even as far back as 1999 at Medinah, when he was a 19-year-old rookie trying to chase down Tiger Woods at the PGA, Garcia must wonder how Woods was able to make an 8-foot par putt at No. 17 on a green so crisp it was like putting on dirt.
 
Thats what major champions do.
 
And thats why Garcia isnt a major champion ' at least not yet.
 
The good news for Garcia is that he has gone only 38 majors without winning one. If its any consolation, Tom Kite was 0-for-63 when he won the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and passed on the best to never win a major burden to someone else. And while this wont fall into the consolation category, either, Garcia is the youngest player at 28 to be considered the best player without a major.
 
Phil Mickelson was 33 when he ended his 0-for-42 record in the majors with an 18-foot birdie putt to win the 2004 Masters. Fred Couples was 32 when he won his only major at the 1992 Masters, Davis Love III was 33 when he finally won a major at the 1997 PGA Championship and Corey Pavin was 36 when he shed the label as best without a major in the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills.
 
A major is coming for Garcia. He is simply too talented.
 
But he also has more to overcome.
 
Unlike the others who labored longer than they would have liked to win a major, Garcia is saddled with more scar tissue. How he responds to such negative reinforcement will determine how soon ' and how many ' he wins.
 
Not since Mickelson has a player with so much skill played in so many majors without winning, so they make for natural comparisons.
 
The positives:
 
  • Garcia already has played in the final pairing three times in a major, the same number as Mickelson before Lefty won his first.
     
  • Sunday was the third runner-up for Garcia in a major. Mickelson had three runner-ups before winning his first major.
     
    The negatives:
     
  • Mickelson was 29 when he suffered his first major heartache in the 99 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2, where Payne Stewart beat him with a 15-foot par on the final hole. He was 31 when David Toms beat him with a par on the last hole of 01 PGA Championship.
     
    Garcia is 28 and already has gone through that twice.
     
  • Mickelson was always gracious in defeat. The putts that Payne made on 16 and 18 showed what a great champion he is, Mickelson said in 1999 after Stewart rallied to beat him at Pinehurst.
     
    Garcia still acts as though the world is out to get him.
     
    The opening question Sunday evening was whether Garcia, three shots clear of Harrington when they made the turn, was thinking that he was finally going to capture his first major.
     
    Next question, please, Garcia bristled. Lets keep this as positive as we can, please.
     
    He later suggested that some players ' namely, Harrington ' are more 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 hasnt happened to me. I feel like I played well enough to win probably more than two majors throughout my career.
     
    One thing Harrington had in his favor was experience and the ability to make putts under pressure.
     
    No one imagined anyone capable of going 66-66 over the final two rounds at Oakland Hills, although Saturdays rain delay made the greens soft enough to allow such scoring.
     
    Even so, it was the most clutch putting performance over the final three holes of a major since Stewart at Pinehurst No. 2.
     
    Stewart was one shot behind on the 16th hole when he made a 25-foot par putt down the hill. Then came the par-3 17th, where he knocked it to 3 feet for birdie to take the lead. And after finding trouble off the tee and choosing to lay up on the 18th, he hit wedge to 15 feet and made the par putt for a dramatic victory.
     
    His opponent that day was Mickelson, who overcame that to go three straight years winning a major.
     
    Theres hope for Garcia.
     
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