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Has best shot of British Open already been struck?
“I definitely feel like everybody has moved on,” the Spaniard said after a final practice round Wednesday at Muirfield, “and that’s great.”
In late May, in the midst of a hissing match with Tiger Woods, Garcia made a racially tinged remark about inviting his rival over for dinner and serving fried chicken. Garcia apologized to Woods, but several weeks later, a few wiseguys at Merion Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia, tried reviving the controversy.
As Garcia walked down one fairway, a fan lining the ropes yelled, “I ate the bones!” _ the punch line from a new round of commercials for KFC, the fast-food chain formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Many fans cheered and a few expressed loud support for Garcia, only to have someone yell something like “Winner, winner, chicken dinner!” as one did standing on the patio of a pricey home alongside another fairway.
Garcia finished tied for 45th.
“It kind of takes a lot of energy (to deal with),” he acknowledged. “There’s a group _ I don’t know what you’d call them _ that’s always going to be there. But over here, people have moved on. … Every time I come to the UK, even though I’m not British, the crowds treat me extra special.”
That may be in part because Garcia, a golf prodigy once nicknamed “El Nino,” has been a force on Europe’s Ryder Cup team for more than a decade and played his first British Open as a 16-year-old amateur in 1996. Asked what he remembered about that debut, Garcia laughed.
“The grass was taller than I was,” he said.
SPEAKING OF YOUTH: With all the buzz generated by 19-year-old Jordan Spieth’s win Sunday at the John Deere Open, four-time European Tour winner Matteo Manassero revealed life isn’t always glamorous for rising young stars.
Asked when he planned to buy a Ferrari, the 20-year-old said he’s only had his license briefly and that Italian law limits the size of the engine in the cars he’s allowed to drive for the first year.
“How small? Like a bike?”
“I actually don’t know that,” Manassero replied.
He did have plenty to say, however, about whether to be surprised by the accomplishment of youngsters like himself, Spieth and 14-year-old Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang.
“When you make the cut and play like he did, that shows so much. … He’s not that age, you know what I mean?” Manassero said. “He was 14, but he didn’t act for sure like a 14-year-old.”
“How old do you feel?”
“I feel 20. … We show a very mature side of us because we’re here working,” Manassero said. “And so probably for that reason, we look a little older.”
“How old does Tiger look?”
“His age,” Manassero said diplomatically.
YEAH, BABY!: The last time the Open was played at Muirfield in 2002, Justin Rose arrived in grand style, behind the wheel of a Jaguar decked out like one of the cars from the “Austin Powers” movies.
“The nose was so long in that Jag, I think … I touched the front wall as I was parking up,” Rose recalled with a laugh.
This time, befitting his status as the reigning U.S. Open champion, the Englishman is being driven to and from the course.
“I think I’ll be a little bit more under the radar,” Rose said.
DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME: The tournament doesn’t start until Thursday, yet the most entertaining shot at the British Open may already have been hit.
It belonged to short-game wizard Phil Mickelson, who won the Scottish Open last Sunday and arrived at the 17th green during a practice round to find his ball nestled in light rough halfway up a small knob alongside the putting surface. The left-hander grabbed a wedge and with his back to the flag, feathered a shot that arched softly and landed behind him and rolled to within a few feet of the pin.
It was captured on video by golf blogger Geoff Shackelford (see it here: http://bit.ly/1aIRehR ). Scott Piercy, one of Mickelson’s playing partners during Monday’s round, tried replicating the shot without success.
“I haven’t hit it in so long, I just looked at it and thought I’d give it a try. I didn’t know anybody was filming,” Mickelson said.
“Hopefully,” he added a moment later, “I won’t have to hit that shot this week.”
SWOOSH, THERE IT IS: Nike was one of the few sponsors that stuck by Tiger Woods after a much-publicized episode of serial adultery in 2009.
The company announced Wednesday it renewed an endorsement deal with the golfer that began in 1996, when he turned pro. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.
“He is one of Nike’s most iconic athletes and has played an integral part in Nike Golf’s growth since the very beginning,” the company said in a statement.
By David Keene
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