He was 19 when he showed up in Dallas, without a care in the world or even a driver's license. Garcia captured the hearts of the Texas gallery by attacking every pin, smiling at every pretty girl and saying all the right things. He wound up in a tie for third that year, and the best seemed to be right around the corner.
- Two victories on the European tour as a rookie.
- A showdown with Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship, including that shot he gouged out of a tree root and chased up the 16th fairway at Medinah.
- One of the European stars in the Ryder Cup at Brookline, where he became the most celebrated 19-year-old at The Country Club since Francis Ouimet.
Five years later, he is still trying to establish himself as a legitimate star.
Garcia took an important step Sunday by winning the Byron Nelson Championship with tremendous shotmaking, average putting and not much effort in the sudden-death playoff.
After closing with a 1-over 71 - the first player in 11 years at that tournament to win with a final round over par - Garcia only had to two-putt from 30 feet on the first extra hole as Dudley Hart and Robert Damron fell apart.
'A couple of breaks here and there throughout the tournament are huge,' Garcia said. 'I just waited for them to happen, and fortunately enough happened this week.'
It was his fourth PGA Tour victory, all of them against strong fields. The 64 world-ranking points moved him to No. 3 in the Ryder Cup standings in Europe, and he is a lock to play on his third team in September at Oakland Hills.
Some might have expected more out of Garcia by now, himself included.
'Definitely, I would have liked to have been a little better, the way I started,' Garcia said. 'When I turned pro, of course you hope for the best, but you don't know what to expect. I definitely would have been happy the way things are now. But you know, we're never satisfied. We always want more. Sometimes, maybe we get a bit too greedy.'
When Garcia turned pro, David Duval was No. 1 and Woods was just starting to dial in on a revamped swing that would take him to unprecedented heights in golf, particularly in the majors.
Garcia, who once rose as high as No. 4 in the ranking, couldn't keep up. Before long, the attention shifted to other young players, such as 23-year-old Adam Scott of Australia, who won The Players Championship in March.
There have been other growing pains for Garcia.
His charm lost some of its shine when he kicked off his shoe in disgust after slipping on a shot, nearly hitting a tournament official in the World Match Play Championship in England. He blamed a playoff loss to Aaron Baddeley in Australia on a rules official out to get him.
Even last month, despite playing the final 12 holes at Augusta National in 8 under par to shoot 66 and finish in a tie for fourth at the Masters, he pouted in Butler's Cabin during an interview with Dick Enberg, and later with reporters.
'When we're playing well, we're the best,' he said. 'And even if we're playing well and things are not going our way, we can be shocking. So, it's nice to see how fair you guys are.'
Garcia later attributed his mood at the Masters to being away from his home in Spain too long.
Most of it was simply frustration at not being able to get much out of his game.
Garcia changed his swing more than a year ago, which attributed to his drop to No. 95 on the PGA Tour money list last year. He reduced the lag in his swing so that he wouldn't have to rely so much on timing, particularly when the pressure was high on Sunday afternoon.
It started to come together about six months ago at the American Express Championship, and he has been waiting for everything to fall in place.
All that's holding him back now is his putting.
Garcia said his two-shot lead going into the final round should have been larger, and he could have avoided a playoff on the TPC at Las Colinas by making a fraction of the numerous birdie putts he faced inside 15 feet.
'It's such a thin line between feeling like you're going to make it and feeling a bit shaky,' he said. 'My confidence with my putting is not as good as it was, but my confidence with the long game, it's miles better. I know what I have to do around the course, and that comes from having confidence in yourself and in your swing.'
Garcia is playing Colonial this week, but the real measure will come in the U.S. Open next month at Shinnecock Hills. The 24-year-old Spaniard has performed well in the majors, the only player to finish in the top 10 in all four of them two years ago. He played in the final pairing with Woods two years ago at the U.S. Open, finishing fourth.
'I'm just hoping to keep it going,' he said. 'I still have three great tournaments to come, and I'm going to try to keep doing well in those.'
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.