Garcia has moved beyond bitterness

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TULSA, Okla. — Everything about Southern Hills screams Sergio Garcia — if the wailing has stopped within the fragile Spaniard’s head.

Three weeks removed from his playoff loss to Padraig Harrington and subsequent whine-fest at the British Open, Garcia came to the interview room yesterday at the 89th PGA Championship and said all the right things.

The 27-year-old no longer was haranguing the golf gods for his perceived misfortune at Carnoustie, where his wire-to-wire bid for a major breakout fell prey to a Sunday 73 and a handful of near-miss, high-side putts. He no longer was blaming the Carnoustie grounds crew for taking too long to rake the bunkers at Carnoustie’s 72nd hole, where he had to wait nervously over a 4-iron approach with the claret jug hanging in the balance. He no longer was swimming in self-pity over the 8-foot par putt at the 72nd hole that started on his intended line but refused to break right and wobbled around the left lip of the cup.

Garcia doesn’t regret his bitter post-British comments. But he seems to have moved beyond them.

“Yeah, I was emotional,” Garcia said. “I opened myself up to you guys and said what I felt. I didn’t want to take anything out of Padraig winning the Open, but I felt like I played well enough to win it, and unfortunately it didn’t happen. Definitely if a couple of breaks would have gone my way, it would have been a different story. But that’s the beauty of the game.”

As he stood in the media tent in Scotland three weeks ago with Irish fans serenading Harrington in the background, “beauty” certainly wasn’t a word that would have popped into Garcia’s head.

“It wasn’t easy the first week after, a couple of days after, but you get over it,” said Garcia, who spent the two weeks after the Open on the Costa del Sol playing tennis, cavorting on the beach and otherwise engaged in some earnest forgetting. “You know, the guy who finishes second is only the first loser, I guess, so it’s hard sometimes. But you’ve got to move on. And as I said before, just take the positives out of it, and there were a lot of them.”

That’s true enough. For the first time in his major career, Garcia spent all week atop the leader board at Carnoustie, an impressive showing of doggedness for a player better known for inconsistent flashes of brilliance.

For the first time in his major career, Garcia looked solid with the flatstick on Sunday at Carnoustie. Sure, he missed a handful of putts down the stretch and during the playoff on the Angus Monster but not because of his technique. His stroke with his new belly putter was pure all week; his luck and, to a far lesser extent, his pace and reads were poor.

And for the first time in his major career, Garcia rallied from his early Sunday stumbles instead of fading, rebounding from a trio of front-nine bogeys to reclaim the lead with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 13 and 14.

Perhaps those positives will help Garcia turn Carnoustie into a major stepping stone and not a psychological millstone. After all, in a sport in which losing is de rigueur, golfers have to be masters of rationalization. Had he failed in the manner in which Harrington almost did by carding a double-bogey on the 72nd hole, there would be no escaping logic and likely no quick recovery. But to Garcia’s thinking, however odd, he did nothing wrong at Carnoustie.

“[My father] told me, ‘You did all you could. You did everything right. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be,’ ” Garcia said of his first conversation afterward with father and longtime golf pro, Victor. “At the end of the day, that’s all you can really do.”

Garcia has arrived at the PGA Championship seemingly emotionally recovered and ready to compete on a course that suits his skills far better than Carnoustie. Garcia always has played his best golf on twisty, shortish, tree-squeezed tracks like Southern Hills. He finished tied for 12th on the Tulsa layout at the 2001 U.S. Open, where he entered Sunday play just one stroke behind 54-hole leaders Retief Goosen and Stewart Cink. He has collected half of his six PGA Tour victories at Westchester Country Club (Barclays) and Colonial, the two tour tracks that most closely resemble Southern Hills.

Nobody hits the ball any better from tee to green, either. Ask a tour player to name the game’s purest ball-strikers and Garcia’s name invariably will be on a short roster beside those of Vijay Singh and Adam Scott. Among the game’s elite players, Garcia has never wielded a magic wand of a putter like Tiger, Phil Mickelson or Ernie Els. Nobody has matched Woods in mental toughness.

But Garcia has plenty of game to be a Slam staple.

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