Sergio has long road to US Open

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JACKSONVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Sergio Garcia missed the cut in his first major as a pro, at Carnoustie in 1999 for the British Open. He has played in every major since then, a streak of 46 in a row that suddenly is in danger.

Garcia, coming off his worst season as a pro that required a 10-week break to become rejuvenated about golf, is not exempt for the U.S. Open at Congressional.

As of Monday, he had not signed up sectional qualifying _ the deadline is 5 p.m. Wednesday _ although his agent said he was going to enter. The 31-year-old Spaniard still has time to avoid having to go through qualifying for the first time.

“I suspect he’ll be top 50 by then,” Clarke Jones of IMG said Tuesday morning.

Garcia is No. 76 in the world, and has until May 23 to try to crack the top 50. If that fails, new criteria for the U.S. Open gives him until the week before the U.S. Open to get into the top 50.

He has played only six times this year _ three times in Europe, three times on the PGA Tour _ with his best result a tie for eighth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Jones said Garcia would play the Wells Fargo Championship next week, followed by The Players Championship and at least one of the Texas tournaments.

“He’s on his way back up,” Jones said. “He is headed down the right path.”

Garcia, along with Anthony Kim and Tiger Woods, is a past champion at Congressional, which hosts the U.S. Open on June 16-19. He won the now-defunct Booz Allen Classic in 2005, closing with a 65 for a two-shot victory.

Along with the U.S. Open, Garcia has a lot of ground to make up in other events. He already has missed two World Golf Championships (Arizona and Doral) and is not exempt for the third one at Firestone a week before the PGA Championship. And he is not exempt for the final two majors, although the PGA Championship tends to take the top 100 in the world.

Garcia, of course, is not alone.

Vijay Singh, whose 67 consecutive majors is the longest active streak, is not yet exempt for the U.S. Open. Singh was awarded a special exemption to the U.S. Open last year, and got into the British Open having played on the most recent Presidents Cup team. Singh is at No. 53 in the world ranking.

USGA executive director Mike Davis said he did not anticipate anyone getting a special invitation this year.

Others who are on the bubble, with one month to go to crack the top 50, include three PGA Tour winners this year _ Gary Woodland (No. 48), Rory Sabbatini (No. 56) and Aaron Baddeley (No. 58).

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BEST WITHOUT A U.S. WIN: It’s not quite the burden as being the best without a major, but Tim Clark felt relieved last year when he won The Players Championship and shed the label as the best to have never won on the PGA Tour.

So who’s next?

Of players who have been PGA Tour members as long as they have been a pro, Rickie Fowler has the highest ranking at No. 34, although he is only in his second year. Steve Marino (57), Jeff Overton (59) and Kevin Na (64) are also among the top 75 in the world without ever winning on tour. Then there are players such as Brett Quigley, Harrison Frazar and Briny Baird, who all have more than 300 starts.

“I’m going to look at those guys who have been up there for a lot of years and put in the time,” Clark said. “You look at a guy like Briny Baird and Harrison Frazar. These are guys who have been out here a long time, certainly had a lot of chances and it would certainly be nice to see those guys win tournaments.”

Clark won in his 205th start on the PGA Tour.

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CROWDED SCHEDULE: The Chevron World Challenge, which Tiger Woods hosts the first week of December, had scheduling concerns even before the prospects of a World Golf Championship in South Africa.

This year’s tournament is Dec. 1-4, opposite the Hong Kong Open. The bigger problem is the Dubai World Championship the following week to conclude the European Tour season. The pro-am for Dubai is Tuesday, making it nearly impossible for someone to play Chevron and get to Dubai on time.

Graeme McDowell is the defending champion at Chevron. Other European Tour members who played Woods‘ event last year include Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Luke Donald.

One solution being discussed is for the final round to played early Sunday (and shown on NBC Sports on tape delay), which would offer European Tour members the chance to get a flight that afternoon and arrive in Dubai on Monday night.

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U.S. OPEN QUALIFYING: Augusta National chairman Billy Payne said the Masters would take a close look at its qualifications to make sure the field doesn’t get larger than the club prefers.

The U.S. Open doesn’t worry about the size of its field _ it is set at 156 players _ although it gave the criteria a close review. The U.S. Open prides itself in being the most democratic of the majors in that it prefers that around half the players go through qualifying.

Starting in 2012, the U.S. Open is moving away from the money list on the PGA Tour (top 30) and European Tour (top 15) and instead will take the top 60 in the world a month and a week before the championship. Still in tact will be the 30 players who reach the FedEx Cup finale at the Tour Championship.

How many players will be exempt under that criteria in 2012?

The U.S. Open has done so much study on this,” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We’ve gone back on a five-year basis to see if the (2012) rules were in place the last five years, the net results and what it gets us. We do not want to cross the line of more than 50 percent being exempt for the U.S. Open. If we’ve done our homework properly, half will be exempt.”

Davis said the results showed an addition of between zero to five players.

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DIVOTS: In the 12 days since Kevin Na took a 16 on the ninth hole of the Texas Open, the video on YouTube has 741,297 views. … Ryan Moore has signed up to play the World Match Play Championship in Spain, to be held a week after The Players Championship. The criteria provided for the highest-ranked player available from the Americas. Moore is No. 40 in the world. … Alex Carpenter of Abilene Christian, who won the Southern Amateur last year, is the only U.S. player on the Palmer Cup team who does not attend a Division I school. The Palmer Cup, which matches college players from the United States against Europe, will be June 9-12 at The Stanwich Club in Connecticut.

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STAT OF THE WEEK: Of the top 10 players on the PGA Tour money list, Matt Kuchar is the only player to have not won this year.

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FINAL WORD: “You can call a lot of places these days bombers’ courses.” _ Jerry Kelly.

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