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Older, wiser Sergio Garcia stays within range at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, hits from the bunker to the 11th green during the second round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Friday, June 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Sergio Garcia, of Spain, hits from the bunker to the 11th green during the second round of the U.S. Open Championship golf tournament in Bethesda, Md., Friday, June 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

This wasn't the old — well, young — Sergio Garcia. This wasn't the brash, confident, borderline cocky talk of a guy who became one of Tiger Woods' rivals and earned a reputation as a bit of a villain on the PGA Tour.

Garcia on Friday was doing the kind of quiet self-criticizing that is often a sign of not only good golfers but mature ones. Now 31, Garcia has been affixed with the label of "Best golfer to never win a major" for a while now.

So when he shot an even-par 71 in the second round to remain at 2-under for the U.S. Open, it was a positive sign that Garcia looked and sounded like a guy who isn't falling apart this weekend.

"I would have loved to play obviously much better and been able to shoot 3‑ or 4‑under," Garcia said. "It was very possible today. But unfortunately the game wasn't there."

While Rory McIlroy, playing one group behind him, shot 5-under to take a commanding lead, Garcia put himself within striking distance by not blowing up on this tough Congressional Country Club course.

Garcia double-bogeyed No. 11 and went over par on three other holes and admitted not even being close enough to his prime performance level to take advantage of opportunities.

"If you're hitting it all over the shop, it's quite difficult to give yourself chances," he said. "You're kind of fighting to make pars."

Garcia got to play in the morning and took advantage of some soft greens, the result of a lot of overnight rain. But while others in the morning went well over, the Spaniard never lost control. He even birdied No. 18 to stay within nine strokes of runaway leader McIlroy.

And despite being so far behind (Garcia's not alone), he doesn't plan on changing his approach to catch up.

"Not at all," he said. "I have bigger problems than Rory McIlroy."

Starting with history. Garcia has played 11 U.S. Opens and his best finish was tied for third in 2005. This is his 40th major championship without a victory.

Given McIlroy's performance it would take a herculean effort out of Garcia to even make this a tournament. But he has put himself in as good a position as anyone to provide a challenge.

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