- The Washington Times - Monday, June 13, 2005

There are times when Sergio Garcia seems like the oldest 25-year-old golfer in the world. He’s been part of our collective conscious, after all, since the ‘99 PGA Championship, when he dueled Tiger Woods down the stretch while still a teenager. From there he went straight to celebrity — bypassing the usual prerequisites like winning on the U.S. tour first — but he appears to have come through the experience without any lasting damage to his prospects.

Indeed, until he pops in a pair of gag teeth and starts making like Jerry Lewis, as he did yesterday after clinching the Booz Allen Classic, we tend to forget that Sergio is just a kid … and that his best years are presumably ahead of him. We also tend to forget — because he has yet to break through in the Big Four — that he has accomplished quite a lot for someone so young.

The victory at Congressional, for instance, is his sixth on the PGA Tour. Darn few players in recent years have racked up more at his age. Tiger (29) did, of course, and so did Jack Nicklaus (17), but after them only Phil Mickelson’s (8) total tops Garcia’s. And by the time the 2005 schedule is complete, Sergio (whose next birthday isn’t until January) may well catch Lefty.

Especially if he keeps putting the way he did at the Booz Allen. The short stick has been his bete noire, costing him at least one major (the ‘02 U.S. Open comes to mind) and, most recently, the Wachovia Championship, where he couldn’t hang onto a six-stroke lead in the final round. But a tip from buddy Adam Scott — his principal competition on the back nine yesterday, as it turned out — had him rolling in putts like a young Ben Crenshaw.

“The past three years it’s been my downside,” he said, as if we didn’t know. “Some weeks it feels like I can’t make a putt.”

He might have hit upon something here, though, a bit of mental imagery that — for four days, at least — made the hole look bigger than one of those British Open pot bunkers. Sergio with a hot putter heading into the U.S. Open; now there’s a scary thought.

The shadow of Seve Ballesteros looms over all of Spanish golf, so it’s interesting to note the similarity between Seve’s career and Garcia’s (so far) — or rather, one particular similarity. I’m talking about Ballesteros’ history of playing well the week before the Open. Seve won at Westchester (which has often been the lead-in tournament) twice and lost in a playoff another time. And now Sergio has won at Westchester and Congressional the past two years. Eerie.

Ballesteros never managed to win our Open, though — despite some good chances at Oakmont in ‘83 (tied for the lead with 18 holes to play), Oakland Hills in ‘85 and Olympic in ‘87. Garcia, too, has had his opportunities, but shot 77 Sunday at Southern Hills in ‘01 and 74 at Bethpage in ‘02.

“It would be amazing,” he said, to be the first Spaniard to capture the Open, to achieve something that eluded even Seve. “Any time you can help your country grow [in golf stature] and get more known and be a part of history, it’s something special. [But] I have to go one step at a time. I was fortunate to win this week. Next week is a brand new week. … I’m confident, but we’ll see what happens.”

If he isn’t the Best Player Never to Win a Major, he’s definitely in the discussion. But the past disappointments and near misses don’t appear to weigh too heavily on him. That could help him this week at Pinehurst — and in future Grand Slam events — that is, if his frustrations don’t continue for too much longer.

“I’m not worried at the moment,” he said. “I know that — I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen. I don’t know when, but it’s just a matter of time. I’m just going to wait for it and be calm on the course and let it happen.”

Another Garcia-Scott staredown also seems just a matter of time. Aside from Woods, they’re the two most dynamic twentysomethings around, and it was in the Booz Allen — historians take note — that they first went head-to-head. For that, if nothing else, the 2005 tournament figures to be remembered (just as the ‘99 PGA is for the aforementioned Tiger-Sergio joust). These are seminal moments in golf, folks, and one of them just happened on River Road in Potomac.

The two young masters will be seeing each other again, no doubt — possibly soon, perhaps even this weekend. It would probably help the TV ratings if they didn’t like each other quite so much, if one didn’t supply the other with putting pointers. But that’s OK. The quality of their golf should be enough to keep us entertained.


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