That was the summer of '99 at the PGA Championship.
More than six years later, Garcia is still running after the world's No. 1 player and hasn't made up much ground. The latest opportunity came Sunday at Torrey Pines, where he played with Woods in the final group for the first time since the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.
He hooked his opening tee shot and made bogey. He blasted out over the lip of a fairway bunker and over the green at No. 2, making another bogey and sending Garcia to a 40 on the front nine. To his credit, Garcia hung around long enough to give himself a long eagle putt on the 18th hole to join the playoff at the Buick Invitational.
He wound up with a three-putt par and a 75.
There will be other chances, for no other reason than the 26-year-old Garcia is blessed with immense talent that should be enough to overcome a suspect putting stroke. But beating Woods when it counts -- and the 'Battle at Bighorn' doesn't -- remains a mental hurdle.
'What can you do?' Garcia said. 'I wanted to play well, there's no doubt about that. It's been a long week, a long trip from Abu Dhabi. I felt a little bit tired all week long, and unfortunately it caught up with me today. But that's all you can do, and go on to next week.'
That he failed to beat Woods from the final group is no disgrace.
Perhaps more alarming is that of players in their 20s, Garcia is one of the few making progress toward becoming a veritable star and one day dethroning Woods.
Only six players in their 20s have won at least two times on the PGA Tour, and three of those guys -- Ben Crane, Rory Sabbatini and Vaughn Taylor -- are a few months away from graduating to their 30s. For those who don't know much about Taylor, he is a sharp kid who hits it long and twice won the Reno-Tahoe Open opposite a World Golf Championship event.
Garcia has won six times on the PGA Tour, all of them on either strong courses (Westchester, Colonial) or against strong fields (Mercedes Championships, Byron Nelson Championship). His resume includes 10 victories overseas, and three appearances in the Ryder Cup before turning 25.
The only other young player in the elite category is Adam Scott, who won The Players Championship at 23 and has four trophies from the PGA Tour (although the tour doesn't recognize his 36-hole, playoff victory at Riviera).
What puts Garcia in a league of his own among young players is the majors. He has seven top 10s in the majors, and had a shot to win on the back nine in four of them. Scott, a 25-year-old from Australia, has one top 10 and only last year made the cut in all four majors for the first time.
Ben Curtis, for those keeping score, is the only player currently in his 20s to have won a major.
No doubt, it's getting harder to win on the PGA Tour with so much depth of talent, and with so many veterans hitting their stride in their late 30s and 40s, such as David Toms, Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry.
And it would be unfair to expect anyone to reach the bar set by Woods, who won 46 times and 10 majors in his 20s. Ditto for Phil Mickelson, who won 16 times in his 20s, or David Duval, who won 13 times and a major before turning 30. Those are special talents.
But the search continues for a young player who has the tools to challenge the best.
And while it might start with length, it sure doesn't end there.
Four weeks into the season -- hardly a good gauge -- seven of the top 10 players in driving distance are in their 20s, starting with Bubba Watson who is getting shamelessly promoted as the future of golf. Watson indeed might go on to do great things in the next few years, but if length was all that mattered, he probably would have reached the big leagues before he was 27.
Woods says the future of golf lies with players who are bigger, stronger and more athletic -- guys built like linebackers who can generate enormous club speed and have been taught the technical side of golf from an early age.
But a few minutes later, he was asked the difference between a great swing and a great game.
'You've got to have the guts to get it done,' Woods said. 'You can have a picture-perfect swing. You can put the club in every position. But can you pull the trigger when you have a 3-iron over water on the last hole when you need to make 3? Can you do it? That's when it comes down to, 'What do you have inside?'
'That's something you can't teach.'
Woods made that observation on the eve of the Buick Invitational. Five days later, Garcia had more than 3-iron over the water to the 18th green on the South Course. He needed a 3. And he hit the green.
He just didn't make the putt.
The problem Woods sees with most young players is they have one shot, one swing, one trajectory. He noted that golf balls don't allow for as much movement anymore, but they can still be shaped.
'I don't see the kids trying that,' he said.
One of the young players not cut out of the same cloth might be Ryan Moore, who doesn't have a coach, psychologist or nutritionist. He became the first player since Woods to earn his card without going to Q-school, although he has started this year by missing his first two cuts.
Meanwhile, the search goes on.
And while he had a Sunday to forget, it starts with Garcia.
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