Sergio Garcia still looking for major title

Published 8:02 pm Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sergio Garcia was still a teenager back in 1999, filled with bravado and potential, and eager to take on Tiger Woods and anyone else standing in his way of being the No. 1 player in the world.

With a stunning shot from behind a tree and a leap across the 16th fairway at The PGA Championship, it looked as if he was off and running.

Seven years later, though, he remains stuck with the rest of the pack, still chasing Woods and that first major title.

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“Of course when you come out, you think that you’re going to rip the world apart and you don’t think about anybody else,” the Spaniard said Wednesday. “But as you keep playing, you realize how many good players are out here and how many players actually can win a tournament that single week.

“It’s not easy.”

Never is that more clear than this week, as the PGA returns to Medinah for the first time since “El Nino” took the place by storm. It’s Woods and Phil Mickelson who are all the rage now, winners of five of the last seven majors and paired together for only the fourth time at a major.

Garcia, meanwhile, finds himself as little more than a sideshow. Oh, people are certainly talking about him. But they’re either asking about that tree or why he’s inherited the dreaded “best player never to win a major” mantle that dogged Mickelson for so many years. “Sergio, obviously as we all know, he’s got all the talent in the world,” Woods said. “He’s come close on several occasions, and it’s just a matter of doing the right things at the right time. But he’s put himself there. You put yourself there enough times, you’re going to get it done.”

But when?

Ttouted as Europe’s answer to Woods, he turned pro after finishing as the low amateur at the 1999 Masters, and made a spectacular debut with a tie for third at the Byron Nelson Classic.

Three months later, he shot a 66 in the first round at Medinah to become the youngest player to lead the PGA Championship since the tournament went to stroke play in 1958.

He was two strokes back going into the final round, and fell as far as five back. Instead of giving in, Garcia put some pressure on Woods. He pulled within three after a birdie on the 13th, and made the shot of the tournament on 16.

Woods would go on to win his second major by a stroke, but it was Garcia who won the crowd over with his exuberance.

Surely, it seemed, it wouldn’t be long before Garcia would be hoisting a major trophy of his own. “It’s not easy to go out there and win a major when you’re young and even when you’re in your 20s,” he said.