Golf: Europe looks for the Tiger in Garcia

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WHO NEEDS Tiger Woods anyway? Europe's answer to the newly-recrowned world No 1, Sergio Garcia, will be the focus of attention at the Standard Life tournament starting today.

The prospect, at the age of 19, of shouldering this continent's hopes does not seem to faze the young Spaniard. But he was anxious to get one thing straight. "I don't want to read in the newspapers `The European Tiger Woods' wins the Irish Open," Garcia said. "I want to read that Sergio Garcia wins the Irish Open. I want to be recognised as Sergio Garcia."

For those who may have missed it, Sergio Garcia won the Murphy's Irish Open on Sunday in his sixth tournament as a professional. On the same day, Woods won the Western Open, his third win in four outings. But it was not quite the recognisable Garcia who arrived at Loch Lomond from Dublin. He, his father Victor and manager Jose Marquina, celebrated on Sunday night by giving themselves a No 1 crew-cut. The close shaves were the result of an agreement to mark his first professional victory, and Garcia had carried the razor with him since his first event. "What would I do if I won The Open? Cut my throat, I suppose," he joked.

Preparing for a major is no joking matter. To play or not to play is the question. Golf clubs across Ireland are on alert for the first signs of leading American players. Destinations are kept secret, aliases are used for starting times. Woods, Mark O'Meara, David Duval, Lee Janzen and the US Open champion, Payne Stewart, are among those who will turn up this week at some of the Emerald Isle's finest links such as Ballybunion, Waterville and Portmarnock.

O'Meara, of course, won the Open last year after a similar trip but the idea was first popularised by Tom Watson. The theory is not to bother playing an inland course such as Loch Lomond - even one that is, as Garcia described it, "an American course in the middle of Scotland with mountains on the left and the lake on the right".

As well as Garcia, who cut his world ranking from 150 to 80 last week, there are four players in the world's top 20, but they are all Europeans: the defending champion, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik.

Westwood won in the run-up to three of the majors last year and would not mind doing so again. "The first few times it can be a shock but you would be daft not to want to win. I was fifth and seventh in the last two weeks so I feel I am timing my run to The Open nicely."

However, winning back-to-back when the second event is a major is not easy. Once again the sponsors are offering a pounds 1m bonus for anyone doing the double. As an insurance company, it must think the odds are in its favour.

While Clarke caused a stir last week by missing the Irish Open to practise at Royal Portrush, Montgomerie considered skipping this event. In the end, he felt "an obligation to play in Scotland", where he has never won. "There is no money involved," he added.

Monty is, however, staying this week at Troon with his father, although he denied it was to sneak out in the evenings to practise his pitch and runs. Perhaps the sea air will do the trick. After struggling at the weekend in Ireland, he has had the shafts in his irons stiffened.

"This course is fantastic preparation for confidence-boosting if I finish in the top three," Montgomerie declared. "This whole game is about confidence. The best and most confident player will win The Open. The guy who doesn't think he's going to win has no chance."

Garcia, Montgomerie noted, is not short in the confidence department. "Every so often a very, very good player comes along and we are lucky he is European," said the Scot, who believes Garcia will now make the Ryder Cup team on points.

Westwood thinks Mark James should tell the youngster that he will be in the team whatever. If James has already done that, neither captain or player are letting on. "I'm sure Sergio will be a valuable member of the team," Westwood added. "With the distances he hits the ball, I'd certainly like to partner him." Westwood will have to elbow Jose Maria Olazabal out of the way first.