Golf: Garcia's feet stay firmly on ground

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The Independent Online
A YEAR ago, Justin Rose was being knocked out of the first round of the British Amateur Championship. Sergio Garcia won it. Rose had the moment of a lifetime when he finished fourth in the Open at Royal Birkdale shortly afterwards but since then Garcia has shown himself to be the more likely star of the future.

After 20 consecutive missed cuts, Rose is this week playing his first event on the Challenge Tour at Sable Solesmes in France. The total purse is pounds 50,000. Garcia, however, is competing in the pounds 1.3m Volvo PGA Championship, which starts tomorrow on the West Course at Wentworth.

This is the 19-year-old Spaniard's first outing as a professional in this country but he already has a victory to his name on this course having won the European Young Masters title here four years ago by a mere 14 shots.

Having won the low amateur honours at Augusta last month, Garcia's pro career already includes a third place finish in the Byron Nelson Classic in America. "He has a no-miss sign right on his forehead,"Lee Trevino said . "There is no denying this kid."

That performance fuelled speculation that Garcia might qualify for the Ryder Cup in September, or be picked as a wild card by the European captain, Mark James.

However, it did not contribute financially to that end, or, according to countryman Jose Maria Olazabal, to the more significant aim of gaining his tour card. From the two events he has played in Europe, out of the seven invitations he is allowed, Garcia has earned pounds 19,710 and will probably need around pounds 40,000 more to avoid a trip to the Qualifying School.

"We shouldn't get ahead of ourselves here," said Olazabal, who himself is aiming to repeat the double of the US Masters and British PGA he achieved in 1994. "Any of us would struggle to make the team just playing seven events.

"That is a hell of a task. It is not a matter of being too soon for him to be in the Ryder Cup team but to start talking about these things is to put extra pressure on him and that is pointless. He needs to concentrate on earning his card for next year and if he manages to win a couple of times, that would be a lovely bonus."

Garcia said: "The week in the States gave me a lot of confidence, but as Jose Maria said, I will try to make my card and then see what happens."

As well as his golfing schedule, Garcia has his homework to fit in. He has a fortnight of exams next month, then has the summer free to play golf but has one more year to see out at school. "This is my choice and my family want me to do it," Garcia said. "You never know what is going to happen." The man sitting next to him, Olazabal, nodded knowingly.

With betting on golf solidly third in terms of volume behind horse racing and football, it was probably inevitable that a bookmaker would end up sponsoring a tournament. Victor Chandler has taken on the title sponsorship of the British Masters, an event which has been running for 52 years and which this September returns to Woburn for the first time in five years.

The Duke's Course hosted the pounds 700,000 event 12 times previously but the tournament will at some point switch to the new Marquess Course, due to open next year. With other sports in the news for the wrong reasons, golf's image helps to bring new sponsors to the game.

"Golf has kept itself clean as a sport and punters respect that," said Victor Chandler On Course's Richard Thomas in explaining the company's decision. "That's a serious consideration. A five-year sponsorship of this nature has to be based on something that is safe, clean if you like."