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Archive for Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Despite lack of major, Garcia ahead of curve

June 15, 2005

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— Not long after Phil Mickelson won the Masters last year, a search was launched to find his replacement as the "best player to have never won a major."

Sergio Garcia's name was on just about every list.

Given his age, some questioned whether it belonged.

Garcia is now 25, and it only seems like he has been around forever. It was six years ago at Medinah when the freckle-faced Spaniard closed his eyes and gouged a 6-iron from the base of a tree, then chased its flight up the 16th fairway as he gave Tiger Woods a fearless fight at the PGA Championship.

Still, the best players without a major had something in common - undeniable talent, prominent PGA Tour victories and their share of heartache in the Grand Slam events.

Considering what he has done in his short time on tour, Garcia now looks like the perfect fit.

Garcia passed a minor benchmark Sunday when he captured the Booz Allen Classic at fabled Congressional by closing with a 65 to beat the likes of Davis Love III and Ernie Els.

It was his sixth PGA Tour victory - one more than Mickelson when he was that age.

Mickelson, so gifted that he won on tour while he was still in college, had three top 10s in the majors at this stage, and his only serious chance at winning was the '95 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, where he tied for fourth.

Garcia already has had eight top 10s in the majors. Along with finishing one shot behind Woods in the '99 PGA Championship, he played with Woods in the final group at the '02 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, and he twice went into the final round of the British Open only two shots off the lead.

And just like Mickelson, he's already hearing the question.

"Sometimes I get into the media center and they're like, 'Oh, you haven't won a major yet' and stuff," Garcia said Tuesday. "I know. And I've always said I would love to, and I've had my chances. But it's not something that bothers me that much at the moment. I know that I still have a lot of chances. Fortunately, I'm only 25."

There is a friendly rivalry between Garcia and 24-year-old Adam Scott of Australia, widely considered the best young players in golf because of their rankings (Garcia is No. 6, Scott No. 7) and their quality wins.

Garcia has won on classic courses at Colonial, Westchester and Congressional, and against quality fields at the Mercedes Championships and Byron Nelson Championship.

Scott has done most of his damage on the TPC network - Avenel (Booz Allen Classic), Boston (Deustche Bank) and Sawgrass, where last year at 23 he became the youngest winner of The Players Championship. Scott, however, never seriously has contended at the majors.

Garcia was good from the time he turned pro, tying for third in his PGA Tour debut as a professional at the '99 Byron Nelson, making the Ryder Cup later that year and winning 31â2 as the youngest player in Ryder Cup history.

But while he says not winning a major is not getting under his skin, he concedes that he has been pressing.

"The last couple of years, I maybe tried a bit too hard, putting so much pressure and expecting to do well and have a chance of winning," he said. "I know if I play my own game, I'm going to have a chance, because I've showed it. I've showed that I've got good enough game to be out there and have a chance of winning majors."

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