Sergio Surges to No 3

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In football, coaches love defensive players who are around the ball all the time. Players who have a nose for the ball.
 
The names Ronnie Lott, Dick Butkus and, more recently, Troy Polamalu jump to mind.
 
So what does that have to do with golf?
 
Sergio Garcia has been around the ball a lot lately. In fact, he has had a nose for the lead all year long.
 
Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia gets emotional during his post-victory speech Sunday. (Getty Images)
In fact, Garcia just zoomed past Padraig Harrington and Vijay Singh into No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He has never been higher. And that is because he has never been better.
 
In his last six starts worldwide, Garcia has produced a victory, three seconds, a fifth and a 20th. Awesome, he said Sunday from Spain.
 
Sunday from Castellon, Spain, to be precise, is when and where Garcia won on the course on which he learned how to play golf. His victory was by three shots over Swedens Peter Hedblom. Surprisingly, it was Garcias first victory on the European Tour in three years.
 
But the only thing surprising about Garcias recent ascendancy is that it took him so long. He is the most consistent long driver in the game. And he has always had talent oozing from every pore since he was a teenager.
 
Hedblom birdied the first four holes Sunday at the Castello Masters and when Garcia bogeyed the sixth, the four-shot lead he had slept on Saturday night was suddenly gone. He responded with a bounce-back birdie on the seventh and never trailed again.
 
It just feels very special and means so much, Garcia said.
 
Then he wasted no time emphasizing how much in his thoughts Seve Ballesteros has been lately while Ballesteros battles brain cancer in a hospital in Northern Spain.
 
I couldnt help but think about Seve, Garcia said. Im sending my love to him and his family and hope he recovers soon. I hope this victory helps him get a little better.
 
In fact, its almost as if Ballesteros countrymen are channeling their iconic idol. Last week in Portugal, Alvaro Quiros, also a Spaniard, won on the European Tour. And this week that tour will conclude its season at Valderrama where they will play the Volvo Masters in what promises to be an emotional gathering of Europes golfing eagles. Valderrama is where Ballesteros captained the European side to a smashing Ryder Cup victory over the U.S. in 1997.
 
Garcias been burned a few times this year, for sure. Singh beat him with that putt in the playoff at the Barclays. And Harrington tracked him down on the last nine holes at the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. Anthony Kim got him pretty good in the Sunday singles at the Ryder Cup, too.
 
But Garcia has very quietly ' and he doesnt usually do things quietly ' risen to all sorts of challenges this year. He beat everybody who showed up (Tiger Woods was absent) at The Players Championship in early May. And more recently hes been an absolute top-5 machine.
 
Moreover, he seems much more comfortable in his own skin (even in defeat) than he was last year, when his petulance boiled over after losing, gracelessly, to Harrington at the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
 
In 2008, his sportsmanship improved when Harrington beat him at Oakland Hills. And he was positively gracious in defeat at Valhalla in Kentucky when Kim took his measure ' and then some.
 
And now he has climbed to No. 3 with a bullet. Both he and No. 2 Phil Mickelson have outside shots to wrest No. 1 away from the idle Woods, depending on how soon Woods returns from knee surgery and how well he plays when he does.
 
But for now No. 3 looks and feels pretty good to Sergio Garcia. In fact, its awesome.
 
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