Golf: Garcia on disaster course as he whistles in the wind

THERE WAS nothing to indicate that the ball lying between the tracks at Carnoustie Station yesterday belonged to Sergio Garcia, but there could have been. He had found every other trap that had been laid to catch the competitors in the first round of the 128th Open Championship.

They call Garcia the future of European golf, which, given the evidence of yesterday, would give it the rosy prospects of the gas-fired fridge or the Sinclair C5. You can make allowances for his tender age and still the performance was lamentable.

There is no doubt that Carnoustie is a shot-devouring monster, but even it gets indigestion when over par creeps into double figures. Garcia managed an 89 which is 18 shots worse than regulation and so dire that the scoreboard had to be hurriedly adjusted merely to accommodate the Spaniard's name. Only Tom Gillis was worse than him yesterday and the next was four strokes better.

Tony Jacklin, bless him, who regards himself as a 55-year-old character actor in the main plot these days, managed to creak round the course in a 14-over 85. The 19-year-old Garcia managed to shoot more than his age before most of the spectators had arrived. That was within four holes.

"I'm not afraid to be here," Garcia had said with the brashness of youth on Wednesday, but by the end of the par-four first yesterday morning he should have been nervous. The hole is called The Cup and he must have feared never getting in it because his drive clattered into the gallery, his second crossed the fairway into heavy rough, his third advanced a few inches, and by the time he had extricated himself from this mess, he was writing the figure seven on his card.

It was a dreadful start but the holes round the turn were even worse. Garcia left the seventh green a repairable five over and by the time he reached the 13th tee and salvaged a par he had squandered eight shots to par in five holes. His demeanour by this time was of a scolded schoolboy, his hands in his pockets, his eyes fixed on the ground. No one would accuse a professional golfer of not caring but Garcia got pretty close, rushing his shots to get the agony over.

His drives invariably went right, his body equally invariably into contours of inner pain. At one point he stood, crucifix-like with arms spread wide, appealing to someone for salvation, his eyes not wishing to look at a stroke from the 11th tee that was so grotesquely ugly it arced into the rough on the 10th. Amateur golfers do this all the time, but not former amateur champions, and not someone who has had every superlative laid before him since he turned pro.

With that shot the patience of his watching parents broke and an exchange followed from both sides of the gallery ropes. You did not need to be fluent in Spanish to detect desperate anxiety from Garcias elder and junior.

The real low came at the par-three 16th, however. Garcia drove into the face of the bunker and then, rejecting all principles of good practice, failed to make even cursory contact with the sand with his club and the ball was thinned 40 yards past the flag. Not surprisingly, he double- bogeyed that hole, one of five such blemishes.

Coming off the 18th he was all smiles, ruffling the cap of a youngster who crossed his path to the recorder's cabin. A truer indicator of his mood was his refusal to speak to the media immediately afterwards. "Call me Sergio," he had said on Wednesday. Yesterday it was "no, no".

Instead his caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, articulated the unspeakable. "It was just one of those days," he said. "The bunkers were just like magnets. He had a bad start and his ball striking wasn't that good.

"I tried my best to cheer him but his attitude wasn't that bad. I told him he's going to have majors ahead of him. What did he shoot, 89? Look on the bright side, we broke 90."

No amount of whistling in the considerable wind could eradicate a miserable display. At home in Spain he has played nine holes left-handed and still scored 42, yesterday he went out in 44 and back in 45, and, no, he was not using those left-handed clubs backwards. First place at the Irish Open two weeks ago, second position at Loch Lomond on Saturday, yesterday he was simply third rate.