Golf: Garcia bounces back in style

USPGA Championship: Youngest player to compete in tournament in 78 years puts the big names in shade with 66
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The Independent Online
AND THE last shall be first. After finishing rock bottom in the Open last month, Sergio Garcia led the 81st USPGA Championship last night after a first round 66 at Medinah. Garcia ended in style by hitting his approach to the last to four feet and holing the birdie-putt.

Any suggestions that the chastening experience at Carnoustie would curb the exuberance of the Spanish wonderkid had to be quickly dismissed as Garcia, playing in his first major in America since turning professional in April, took a two-shot advantage over the more experienced but less celebrated trio of Jay Haas, JP Hayes and Canadian left-hander Mike Weir.

A lowly finish at the European Open in Ireland and a missed cut last week on the US Tour suggested Garcia might have taken longer than the two hours he claimed to forget his 30 over par performance at Carnoustie. But the 19 year old was back to the form which saw him win the Irish Open and finish second at Loch Lomond.

Garcia did not drop a shot and though he did not take the opportunity to share the lead afforded by a tee shot to four feet at the short 13th, he quickly tallied up his fourth birdie of the day at the par-five next. Not even a 45-minute suspension due to a thunderstorm in the area could disrupt his concentration and he returned to the course to birdie two of the last three holes.

It would probably take a top-two finish for Garcia, currently 12th on the Ryder Cup standings, definitely to avoid a trip back to Munich next week when the qualifying ends but a high finish would take him a long way to partnering the US Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal at Brookline next month.

Garcia, who won the low amateur honours at the Masters in April, is the youngest player to play in the USPGA since 1921 when the 19-year-old Gene Sarazen, who died early this year, made his debut in the championship. Sarazen went on to win it the next two years.

Garcia was not the only European to share the lead on the day. Having not led at any stage at Carnoustie until he ended up in the play-off with Jean Van de Velde and Justin Leonard, Open champion Paul Lawrie amazingly tied for the lead with his fourth birdie in a row at the fifth.

But the Aberdonian could not extend his fairytale run and he returned to level par in the next seven holes. Among those on two under were Lee Westwood, the European Ryder Cup captain Mark James and Swede Robert Karlsson.

Westwood's 70 was his best start in his 14th major and only the second time he had scored under par in the opening round of a major. The 26-year- old, following back-to-back wins in Holland and Ireland, dropped only one shot and gave himself a lot of birdie chances. The most pleasing one he managed to accept came at the last when he hit a nine-iron to six feet.

"I am excited about my game at the moment," Westwood said. "I've had the perfect preparation with the two wins and then a week off and my confidence is good. I have been hitting the ball as well as ever over the last few weeks."

With a 71, Nick Faldo had his best start in the majors this year, which was not difficult considering he missed the cut in the previous three. Faldo impressed in the heavy rain that hampered the early starters to present, finally, the first flickerings of a reason why James should pick the 42 year old as a wild card. "Mark has not said a dicky bird about the Ryder Cup," said Faldo, who has dropped to 193rd in the world, "so I am just trying to play as well as I can. It's been frustrating always finding a reason to mess up. It would be nice to have 72 solid holes."

Tiger Woods and David Duval, two players criticised in a blistering attack on Wednesday by the US Ryder Cup captain Ben Crenshaw, scored 70. Crenshaw's anger at the talk about payment for playing in the Ryder Cup and calling the event an "exhibition" was obvious but yesterday he was sorry for his outburst.

"I was frustrated and maybe it was a mistake but my philosophy bubbled over," Crenshaw said. "I am from a different generation and the Ryder Cup means a lot to a lot of us who have been there."

But Woods, who birdied the last two holes at Medinah, stood by his previous comments. "I'm not trying to demean it but the Ryder Cup is an exhibition," he said. "Is there a winner's cheque at the end of the week? It is an enormous money-maker and I feel it is our right to give some of that money back to our communities as charity." However, Woods will miss a team get together in Boston in a fortnight because of a prior commitment.

Tom Lehman, however, was dismayed at the saga. "We should be ashamed of ourselves for bringing this up in this way and making ourselves look like greedy, whiney brats," he said.

Van de Velde's recipe for happiness, page 20

Durable Dibnah, page 25


(Par 72; US unless stated)


S Garcia (Sp)


J Haas, M Weir (Can), J P Hayes


B Watts, J Kelly, S Cink, B Jobe


D Duval, B Zabriski, R Karlsson (Swe), T Lehman, N Price (Zim), T Woods, M Brooks, L Roberts, M James (GB), L Westwood (GB), C Perry


M Calcavecchia, J Furyk, D Love, N Faldo (GB), S Struver (Ger), B Langer (Ger), R Mediate


M Reid, G Hjertstedt (Swe), R Beem, A Coltart (GB), H Sutton, B Faxon, J Sluman, D Clarke (GB), M O'Meara, T Izawa (Japan), C Franco (Par), K Wentworth, J Huston, S Stricker


S Keppler (GB), F Lickliter, J L Lewis, B Tway, I Woosnam (GB), J Sindelar, F Couples, S Flesch, P Goydos, J Maggert, J Freeman, A Cabrera (Arg), N Ozaki (Japan), G Turner (NZ), N Henke, L Janzen


K Sutherland, T Herron, T Armour, G Day, V Singh (Fiji), G Kraft, J Cook, J Van de Velde (Fr), M Gilmore, S Schneiter, S Kendall, T Pernice jr, K Perry, B Boyd,


D Kestner, G Norman (Aus), T Watson, D Frost (SA)


R Allenby (Aus), J Carter, P-U Johansson (Swe), D Toms, G Bryan, S Leaney (Aus), B Murray


J Sandelin (Swe), S Gump, D Paulson, B Crenshaw, P Sjoland (Swe), T Stelten


W DeFrancisco, K Thompson, T Thelen, T Tolles, J Lankford, H Tanaka (Japan), B Chamblee


L Nelson, B Upper


M Baker, B Hughes (Aus)


S Davis