Begay steps out of the Tiger's shadow

Sergio Garcia's golfing odyssey continues today with his debut in the World Match Play Championship. El Nino, who once won a junior tournament over the West Course by 14 strokes, plays the South African Retief Goosen, with the winner to face Nick Price. Victory on Sunday for the 19-year-old Spaniard would mean a hat-trick of wins after his triumphs at the German Masters and the Dunhill Cup.

Sergio Garcia's golfing odyssey continues today with his debut in the World Match Play Championship. El Nino, who once won a junior tournament over the West Course by 14 strokes, plays the South African Retief Goosen, with the winner to face Nick Price. Victory on Sunday for the 19-year-old Spaniard would mean a hat-trick of wins after his triumphs at the German Masters and the Dunhill Cup.

To do so, Garcia, unlike the defending champion, Mark O'Meara, will not have to beat Tiger Woods. Despite the fact that Woods is a client of the event's organisers, Mark McCormack's International Management Group, he has not returned. Instead, they got the world No 1's former college room-mate Notah Begay III, who is ranked 99th in the world but last Sunday won for the second time on the US Tour. He shot a 59 on the Nike Tour last year and, at Stanford University, played No 1 ahead of Woods and Casey Martin on their championship winning team. "Tiger got a little better a little faster," Begay said.

But what really marks out Begay is the little fact that he is a descendant of the tribes of Navajo, San Felippe and Isleta. "Native American is the most politically correct description," Begay said, "but American Indian is fine."

Begay last played in Britain for the defeated American Walker Cup team at Royal Porthcawl in 1995. He still switches between putting right or left-handed, depending on the break, but since turning professional he has stopped daubing his cheeks with red clay. "It's a bit of a distraction," he said. "It was perceived as war paint but actually it was clay It's a traditional Indian custom. You do it when you say a prayer to the powers that be for strength when you have something hard to do and need help. I perceive each game of golf to be like that, a long journey when there are a lot of obstacles to be overcome, both physically and emotionally."

His background has never been a handicap, he said. "I have never been turned away from a golf club, except when it was because I was not a member. The reception I have received has always been very positive although at the Houston Open earlier this year I was in the washroom when a marshal said it was for players only. I said I was sorry, but then saw him out on the course and he had that look when you put your foot in your mouth. I got a kick out of that."

Begay faces Jose Maria Olazabal today, with Colin Montgomerie the next opponent. O'Meara awaits the winner of the match between Paul Lawrie, the Open champion but unseeded here, and Australian Craig Parry.

When Lawrie said "the draw was fixed", he was actually talking about England and Scotland in the Euro 2000 playoffs. "There were eight teams but those two were always going to come out together," the Scot confided.

Comments