Brian Viner: Garcia suffers curse of custard yellow and the collywobbles
Monday 24 July 2006
The European challenge for the claret jug, in the solitary form of Sergio Garcia, barely flickered into life before it was dead and buried yesterday.
And the murder weapon, alas, was Garcia's own putter. There were moments during the front nine when he might have been better off putting with his former girlfriend Martina Hingis's tennis racket. At any rate, when the Spaniard learns to putt, he will be a hell of a player.
He might one day learn some dress sense, too. For some reason he chose to wear an outfit of custard yellow for his day in the spotlight alongside Tiger Woods, and fittingly he gave a decent impression of a man putting through a pool of Ambrosia. Still, the yellow outfit at least made him hard to spot against these sun-baked links, which came in handy, because there were times when he looked as if he wanted the ground to swallow him, especially after he missed a tiddler on the third for a second successive bogey. After unleashing his tee shot on the fourth he quite understandably sought the sanctuary of a portable toilet, and one irreverently wondered whether, from 18 inches, he might also miss the urinal.
He subsequently bogeyed the eighth and ninth to reach the turn in 39, precisely 10 worse than the day before, when he had become only the 11th player in Open Championship history to break 30 over nine holes.
Such are golf's cruel vagaries, although in truth Garcia had hardly holed a putt of consequence even in that third-round 65, so wonderfully unerring was his iron-play. He stood on the first tee yesterday having played 23 straight holes without a bogey, a record unrivalled even by Woods, yet there can never have been a player in the final pairing on the last day of an Open who got there by putting so poorly.
Garcia has for some time been unable to find a putting stroke to match the brilliance of the rest of his game, but it can't just be a technical shortcoming. Before being called to the tee, he stood on the practice green outside the Hoylake clubhouse metronomically holing five-footers, yet as soon as he had one for real, on the second hole, he whiffed it. He probably needed no reminding that it was the same hole at which he had begun his charge on Saturday, by thrillingly holing his second shot. Yesterday, the cheers were replaced by groans.
So, if not a technical flaw in his putting stroke, it must be mental frailty that assails Garcia on the greens. And any golfer with mental frailties is hardly likely to shed them in the company of Woods. Moreover, neither Woods nor Garcia is known to feature on the other's Christmas card list. At the USPGA at Medinah, in 1999, Garcia was playing just ahead of Woods when he holed a birdie putt on a par three, whereupon he turned round and triumphantly shook his fist at Woods, who was watching from the tee. The Spaniard was only 19 so could perhaps be forgiven his act of gaucheness, but Tiger was unimpressed. As he was again three years later during the US Open at Bethpage, when Garcia was upset at being made to play through bad weather, and implied that if it had been Woods out there, play would have been called off.
Whether or not these historic enmities were playing on Garcia's mind, there's no doubt that yesterday's occasion got the better of him. He is not the first to flinch in the presence of the Tiger, and he won't be the last, although it's worth noting that Woods used to intimidate his playing opponents by bashing his ball a country mile past theirs, whereas at this Open, he has unnerved them by being a country mile behind.
The only sign of anything other than supreme elegance from Woods was a copious spit - a great expectoration, if you like - as he walked from the first green to the second tee. Even if it was caught by the television cameras, it was probably ignored. Times have changed since Jimmy Connors gobbed on Centre Court at Wimbledon and Dan Maskell, in the commentary box, grunted 'Oh I say! Spittle!' Other than that, Woods was the embodiment of refinement and self-control, and alongside him Garcia seemed physically to diminish. By the ninth, the gap between them had expanded from one stroke to seven. By the time they walked off the 18th - Garcia having found a semblance of a putting stroke on the back nine and registered birdies at the 12th and 15th, with an eagle at the 16th - the gap was still seven.
The 26-year-old does not suffer from a lack of self-confidence, but one wonders how this experience will affect him. Before yesterday, his final-round average in the 30 majors he had contested was a decidedly unimpressive 72.45, so if ever there was an opportunity to bury the slur that he suffers from collywobbles in the final straight, yesterday was it.
Instead, having been 12 under par after three rounds, his best 54-hole tally ever in the majors, he never looked close to winning. So Europe's winless run in the majors goes on, and a 73, earning Garcia joint-fifth place, nudged that miserable final-round average of his up a bit.
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