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Garcia Down But Not Out

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. -- The image is indelible, and may well be defining - Sergio Garcia scissor-kicking his way down the 16th fairway at Medinah, having whirlwinded a 6-iron from the base of a tree.
He was a hero then. A 19-year-old phenom who almost overthrew golfs current king.
But somewhere between then and now, boyish charm eroded into boorish behavior. Cheers turned to jeers. And that swing, the one many predicted would some day have to be changed, underwent the inevitable construction.
Its still in an overhaul state. And because of it, Garcia is left to answer questions on if he can make the cut, instead of if he can win.
Garcia enters this years U.S. Open having missed six cuts in his last eight PGA Tour starts. Included in the mix are a first-round loss in the WGC-Accenture Match Play and a tie for 28th in the Masters.
At one time, he was fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking. He's now 14th. Not a terrible drop-off, but certainly not where he desires to be.
His highlights include three PGA Tour victories, and nine worldwide; a victorious appearance in the 2002 Ryder Cup, and a head-to-head beating of Woods in the made-for-television Battle at Bighorn in 2000.
But hes also thrown his shoe in a European event, almost hitting a tournament official, blamed a rules official for a two-stroke penalty in another European event, and drawn the ire of some U.S. Ryder Cuppers for skipping down the fairway during Davis Love IIIs and Pierre Fulkes singles match (though the ultimate Cup outcome had already been determined).
And then there was last year at Bethpage, where he accused officials of showing favoritism to Woods and made an obscene gesture in the direction of heckling fans.
I think thats something that has passed; its already been a year ago, he said when the latter incident was brought up in Tuesdays press conference.
Garcia is trying to focus on the future. Thats why he altered his swing. Hes trying to rid himself of that time-consuming waggle. Hes also trying to get the club more parallel at the top to improve his downswing and add consistency.
Down the stretch when the pressure is on, Ive always had to try to hook the ball too much because of the way my swing was, he explained. So Im just trying to get a bit more consistent at that. And I think what were doing with the swing now is going to help me down the road to be a bit more comfortable with myself when the heat is on.
Im getting stronger and older and I dont need as much latitude to hit the ball so far.
Woods can relate to Garcia's plight. After winning the 1997 Masters by 12 shots, he picked apart his swing one piece at a time and rebuilt it. He won only once in '98, and didn't get another major title to his credit until the '99 PGA. But over the last five seasons he has 30 PGA Tour victories, including seven major championships.
'When you're working on things like that, you're going to lose a little bit of confidence, that's just natural. But it's a matter of showing progress,' Woods said.
'I don't know if he's showing progress or not. I think he's going to have to be the one to answer that.'
The 23-year-old Spaniard knows patience has to be his greatest virtue in this emotionally strenuous endeavor.
Currently, his expectations arent as great as they were a year ago, when he won the Mercedes Championships and declared he had his sights set on winning the money title on both sides of the Atlantic.
He was the only player ' from any continent or any tour ' to finish inside the top-10 in all four majors. His best result came in this event, where he played in the final group Sunday with eventual champion Woods and ended in fourth place.
Hes hoping for a revival of sorts this week. Perhaps a return to the Chicago area will do him some good.
It definitely brings good memories and confidence in yourself, he said, thinking back to Medinah. But its a different week; its a different course, although it looks a bit like it.
And, he hopes, maybe the fans will remember him in that 1999 light and not the shadow he's recently cast.
The Chicago crowds are great, he said. Im expecting a good game on my side ' expect the same kind of the crowds.
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