Friday, August 10, 2007

García Is Feeling the Heat at Another Major

Sports of The Times
August 10, 2007

TULSA, Okla.

In the gray chill of the British Open at Carnoustie nearly three weeks ago, Sergio García missed an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to fall into a four-hole playoff that Ireland’s Padraig Harrington won. And in Oklahoma’s oven heat at Southern Hills yesterday, García missed a 5-foot par putt to finish bogey-bogey for a par 70 in the first round of the 89th P.G.A. Championship.

“Nice way of throwing a good round into the trash,” he said as the sweat slid down his neck. “Two bad reads in the last three.”

Whenever a golfer wastes an opportunity to win a major title — especially for what would have been García’s first major — he is always under a microscope to see how he performs in the first round of the next major. And for 16 holes yesterday in numbers as red as his slacks, García was in and out of the lead that John Daly grabbed with a 67 before England’s Graeme Storm shot a 65.

But for García, a 27-year-old Spaniard, those two bogeys took all the joy out of what could have been a 68, just as the heat had drained his energy.

“It was really hot,” he said, sipping a bottle of water. “It definitely affects you, mainly because you’re constantly sweating. So you have to dry yourself, dry your arms, your hands and the grip. And 15 seconds later, you’re sweating again.

“It does take a little bit out of you, no doubt. But not only me. I think everybody. You kind of get slower as the day goes on.”

Slower and soggier. But isn’t sunny Spain just as hot?

“It’s not as hot in Spain,” he said. “Not as humid, either.”

To some, García sometimes sounds as if he’s making excuses for himself, like when he griped about having to wait at Carnoustie for a greenside bunker to be raked on the 72nd hole. But to others, he’s merely explaining, not complaining.

Whichever you prefer, at the British Open he clinched the dreaded distinction of being today’s best golfer not to have won a major. Yet.

He will. He’s too good, too talented. But until he does, he’s got to live with the dreaded distinction that so many others had to live with until they finally won a major.

Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, of course, never had that monkey on their backs. Nicklaus was a 22-year-old rookie on the PGA Tour when he won the 1962 United States Open at Oakmont. Woods was 21 in his first full year as a pro when he won the 1997 Masters.

Others needed time. Phil Mickelson was 33 when he won the 2004 Masters, Jim Furyk was 33 when he won the 2003 United States Open at Olympia Fields outside Chicago and Vijay Singh was 35 when he won the 1998 P.G.A. Championship at Sahalee near Seattle.

Going back six decades, the great Ben Hogan was 34 when he won his first major, the 1946 P.G.A. Championship, then a match-play event, at the Portland Golf Club in Oregon. And he went on to win eight more majors.

When García, then 19, challenged Woods in the 1999 P.G.A. Championship, losing by a stroke at Medinah after scraping a 6-iron off a tree trunk and scissors-kicking to see it land on the green, he appeared capable of winning a major soon. But his quest has dragged, especially when he didn’t win at Carnoustie after he held the lead for so long. Not that he sounds discouraged. Or haunted.

“You don’t forget it,” he said yesterday, ignoring his final-round 73 at Carnoustie when a 72 would have been enough to win. “On a scale of 100, there were probably 95 positive things and 5 negative things. So you can’t forget about a week that is so positive. Even though I didn’t win, it’s going to be good for me in the future. It’s definitely going to help me throughout my career.”

And he hasn’t begun to doubt himself.

“It’s just a matter of giving myself chances, and I’ll definitely give myself a lot of them,” he said at his news conference Wednesday. “I feel, I’ve always said it, like I should have won at least more than one major by now, but it hasn’t happened yet. The only thing I can do is keep putting myself in that position and it will happen.”

And it will. But maybe not this week and maybe not until he stops finishing with a bogey when a par would have won, the way it happened at Carnoustie, or until he stops finishing bogey-bogey, the way he did yesterday at Southern Hills, to turn a 68 into a 70.


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