Garcia plays catch-up

Sunday, April 01, 2007
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Sergio Garcia is the third link in a chain of Spanish Ryder Cup stars.

Sergio Garcia

(Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff)

Seve Ballesteros plotted the course for the Spanish Armada, followed by Jose Maria Olazabal. They have combined for 38 Ryder Cup victories, and Garcia already has 14 at age 27.

The difference is Ballesteros and Olazabal have won major championships and Garcia hasn't. Ballesteros, 49, won five majors (the last one in 1988), and the 41-year-old Olazabal, who is still a force in the game, has two majors. They both came at the Masters Tournament, in 1994 and 1999.

Garcia has played in only four Ryder Cups, yet he already has a 14-4-2 record.

A major championship victory can't be far behind for Garcia, according to Tiger Woods, the world's No. 1 player.

"Sergio hasn't done it yet, but I'm sure he will soon," Woods said after last year's British Open.

The excitable Garcia thrives in the Ryder Cup, where two of the three sessions are team play. He's 13-1-2 in team matches, but has a 1-3-0 record in singles, which mirror major championships in that the golfer is on his own.

"When you're playing a Ryder Cup, you feel like you're more surrounded by your teammates, by the crowd," Garcia said. "So it's kind of like a little bit different feeling."

Garcia has played in 33 majors, including eight Masters Tournaments, where he has two top-10 finishes (eighth place in 2002 and a tie for fourth in 2004).

In his first Masters, Garcia won the low amateur award in 1999, the same year Olazabal won the green jacket.

Garcia has played as a pro at Augusta National every year since, but isn't enjoying it as much as he used to.

"It meant more at the beginning, but it's kind of gone down a little bit the last few years because they use too many tricks at Augusta National," Garcia told Golf Digest, referring to the course setup.

"They cut the fairways into the grain so you don't get any roll," he explained to the magazine. "The whole front nine is firm, then you get to the 10th hole, and all of a sudden the fairway is soft and you get a mudball in that valley. You hit a perfect drive, but then you can't control your second shot. I still like the course, but I'm more suited for the British and U.S. Opens."

Garcia has 10 international wins and has won six times on the PGA Tour.

In majors, Garcia's best showing is a runner-up finish in the 1999 PGA Championship. He has five other top-five finishes.

"Of course, I haven't won a major yet, but I still feel like I've had a pretty successful career," he said. "I've won a lot of tournaments all over the world, and won quite a good amount of tournaments here in the U.S."

Because he has played on the tour so long (since late 1999), people forget he's only 27.

"It's quite funny; sometimes I look back and it feels like I was 19 three years ago, and I look into it and I've been out here for almost nine years," Garcia said. "It's gone really quick."

He had two good shots at winning majors in 2006. After a third-round 65, he was one shot behind Woods entering the final round of the British Open, but closed with 73 to tie for fifth.

In the PGA Championship, Garcia once again had a strong third round (67) and was four shots off the lead. He shot a final-round 70 to tie for third as Woods won again.

Garcia is in the second year of an interesting caddie relationship. He alternates between Craig Harmon and Glen Murray on his bag.

Garcia was vague when asked how long one caddie works before giving way to the other one.

"When one is caddying, the other one rests," he said.

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.