Garcia Hoping to Rekindle Rivalry

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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.
 
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