- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

SANDWICH, England — The marquee pairing at this week’s 132nd British Open is loaded with loathing.

At 9:09 local time today, Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald will meet on the first tee at Sandwich.

The eyes of England likely will be trained on Donald, the 25-year-old Northwestern graduate and Hempstead, England, native who along with Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey comprise the twentysomething gang known as the British Bulldogs.

Woods and Garcia, meanwhile, are likely to be glaring at each other. Over the last several months, it’s become increasingly apparent that the world’s No.1 golfer and the excitable Spaniard simply don’t like each other.

Yesterday Garcia added a bit more spice to the stew between the two during his pre-championship news conference.

The 23-year-old went out of his way not to mention Woods when he was cataloguing players with the creativity to excel on links courses. Garcia listed Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, fellow Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie and Rose ahead of Woods on the improvisational scale. And when one reporter finally tossed out Tiger’s name, Garcia responded curtly:

“I wouldn’t rate him as my top one on my list on these types of courses, but he can definitely play.”

He can play? At the still sub-prime age of 27, Woods has 38 PGA Tour victories and eight major championships on his resume, and that’s the best Garcia can do? Van Gogh could paint. Da Vinci could sculpt. Sinatra could sing. And Woods can play. Thank you for your insight, Sergio.

Word from within the Garcia camp is that Sergio has reached out to Woods on numerous occasions since last year’s U.S. Open tantrum, but Woods has refused to extend an olive branch. So now Garcia has completed the mutual circuit of disdain.

“I won’t be watching Tiger,” Garcia said. “I don’t care what he does. I’ll be taking care of my own game.”

The last public incident involving the two occurred at last year’s U.S. Open, when Garcia petulantly claimed the USGA would have suspended play on Friday at Bethpage if Woods had been on the course. Garcia put a note of apology on Woods’ locker the following day, but Woods said coldly at the time, “I didn’t read it.”

Apparently, Garcia’s moaning at Bethpage was simply the last straw in a series of his antics that Woods found irksome. Yesterday one Woods insider listed Tiger’s three least favorite players, in order, as Vijay Singh, Garcia and Phil Mickelson.

Perhaps the first incident in the Woods-Garcia schism came back in Garcia’s breakout major at Medinah, when he pointed back at Woods on the tee during the finale of the 1998 PGA Championship.

Garcia once again earned Woods’ ire when he beat the flu-ridden Tiger at the first Battle of the Bighorn later that year and reacted as if he’d just won a major championship.

He then annoyed basically the entire U.S. team at the 1999 Ryder Cup, rolling around the fairways at the Country Club and overzealously celebrating each successful shot authored by European partner Jesper Parnevik.

Just two days ago, two-time British Open champion Greg Norman was lamenting the lack of such personality in golf, singling out Garcia as an exuberant light among automatons.

“When you see a Sergio Garcia, he’s got a bit of flare,” Norman,said. “Who says white men couldn’t jump after what he did at [Medinah]? It was very refreshing. People like to see that. I don’t care whether he’s from Spain, Australia, Japan. Everywhere around the world, people like to watch those types of golfers play.”

Implicit in Norman’s commentary was criticism of Tiger’s lack of personality. Woods responded to Norman’s assertion by explaining that players no longer are allowed the luxury of opening themselves up to fans and media.

“Back even 15 or 20 years ago, if you went out there and did a few things and said a few things, you could get away with it,” said Woods, who has been extremely cautious since a GQ article early in his career published some off-color jokes he felt he told the reporter off the record. “It’s unfortunate, because there are some great characters out here, but they have a hard time letting it go around everybody like they used to. … It’s one of those things where no matter what you do, you’re going to get ripped. If you show too much, you get criticized for that. If you don’t show enough, you get criticized for that.”

Aside from his signature fist pump, Woods always has been firmly entrenched in the latter camp. Perhaps that fundamental difference from Garcia is what makes the two incompatible and, at the same time, such perfect foils for a rivalry.

Unfortunately, Garcia is still in the midst of massive swing changes and has recorded only one top-20 finish this season (T4 at Buick Classic). Tension rarely fails to produce excitement. And while Tiger vs. Ernie might make more sense, Tiger vs. Sergio sure would be more fun.

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