Tuesday, June 10, 2003

A struggling Garcia back in Windy City

Spaniard chased Woods in 1999 PGA at Medinah

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. - Tiger Woods wasn't sure what to make of the spectacle on the 16th hole at Medinah, or the Spanish teenager responsible for it.

His five-stroke lead in the 1999 PGA Championship had been reduced to two when Woods saw Sergio Garcia down the right side of the fairway near trees. "All of a sudden," Woods said, "he started running down the fairway, and we didn't know why. We saw him jump, heard a huge roar on the green. We didn't know what type of a shot it was."

With his ball nestled among roots, Garcia closed his eyes and gouged a 6-iron out of the trees. He sprinted down the fairway. He leaped like a gymnast in a floor exercise as he reached the top of the hill and saw his ball on the green. He tapped his heart in mock relief. A star was born.

"I know they all remember me for that," Garcia said. "You can say that was my signature shot. After that, they start remembering me for other things I've done."

Garcia, 19 then, never caught Woods that afternoon outside Chicago. He finished one stroke behind, but won over a gallery who sensed the beginning of a rivalry that would carry golf well into the 21st century.

"When he came out, he was more like Tiger. He already mentally was there," Ernie Els said. "He didn't have to learn much. He was cocky enough to believe he could beat you, which is a good thing."

Four years later, Garcia returns to Chicago for another major - the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields - with his game a mess and prospects of a real rivalry with Woods in doubt. He has been brilliant and bad, charming and sultry.

The Spaniard has made headlines for beating Phil Mickelson at Colonial for his first PGA Tour victory and knocking off Woods in the made-for-TV "Battle at Bighorn" exhibition. He has won nine times worldwide, and has been ranked as high as No. 4.

He has been criticized for throwing his shoe at the World Match Play Championship in England, nearly hitting a tournament official. He also blamed a rules official in Australia for handing down a two-stroke penalty when Garcia took an improper relief.

The kid has passion.

Some see it as unbridled joy, the way he sprints and skips down the fairway, plays to the gallery and kids around with the guys he is trying to beat.

Others see it as antics.

Garcia angered the U.S. Ryder Cup team for running down the 18th fairway at The Belfry when the cup had been decided but matches were still in progress.

They heckled him at Bethpage, where Garcia responded with an obscene gesture.

He comes to Olympia Fields at an important crossroads in his career. Garcia's best finish this year is a tie for 25th among 36 players in the winners-only Mercedes Championships. He has missed six cuts in 11 events on the PGA Tour as he tries to rebuild his swing to get rid of the waggle and rely less on timing.

At a glance

When: Thursday-Sunday.

Site: Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club. Par: 36-34-70.

Field: 156 (146 pros, 10 amateurs).

Cut: Top 60 and ties, and anyone within 10 strokes of the lead after 36 holes.

Playoff, if necessary: 18 holes (stroke play) on June 16.

Purse: $6 million. Winner's share: $1.08 million.

Defending champion: Tiger Woods.

Former champions in the field:

Retief Goosen, Lee Janzen, Ernie Els, Steve Jones, Corey Pavin, Tom Kite, Hale Irwin.

TV schedule:

Thursday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., ESPN: 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., NBC (Channels 5, 22).

Saturday-Sunday, 1:30 p.m.

to 8 p.m., NBC.

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