Finger wag by amateur sparks Garcia walk-out

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Sergio Garcia, the occasionally turbulent young Spanish golfer known as "El Niño", was involved in an unprecedented incident on the eve at the Volvo Masters here. Garcia walked off the course after nine holes of the pro-am yesterday when he was threatened by one of his amateur playing partners.

Sergio Garcia, the occasionally turbulent young Spanish golfer known as "El Niño", was involved in an unprecedented incident on the eve at the Volvo Masters here. Garcia walked off the course after nine holes of the pro-am yesterday when he was threatened by one of his amateur playing partners.

While the professionals use such occasions as a practice round, the pro-am allows the sponsors and their guests to rub shoulders with top players.

It is a form of "client golf" - the customer is always right and so forth - but Garcia, who will be remembered for the shoe-kicking incident at Wentworth last year, was here praised for his actions by the European Tour.

Garcia was asked for the distance of an approach shot at the ninth hole by Luis Somoza, a 13-handicapper who is the owner of one of Spain's largest transport companies. When Somoza's shot came up short of the green, he blamed Garcia for giving him a wrong yardage.

The confrontation quickly developed into a finger-wagging altercation similar to that between Shakoor Rana and Mike Gatting in Pakistan in 1987.

Garcia said: "He was saying I should be more professional and should take more care of my partners. I always try to take care of my amateurs, give them the breaks on the putts and the yardages if they ask. He started saying rude words and I was thinking: 'What have I done to deserve this?' He was threatening me and I thought the best thing was to leave the pro-am.

"I was sorry for the other amateurs and they wanted me to carry on but it could have got worse on the back nine and that would not have been good for the tournament or the game."

Asked if he thought it was unprofessional to walk off the course, Garcia replied: "Would it have been better to be in a fight on the 17th hole? I thought it was better this way. It looked like he wanted to hit me."

It was a unique situation for the sponsors and the European Tour. "It was very disappointing," said Mel Pyatt, president of Volvo Event Management. "In my long years involved with sponsorship I have never experienced anything like it."

David Garland, director of Tour operations, said: "This is the first time anything like this has happened. The pro-am is a fun day with a little competitive golf thrown in. Golf is not about people being threatened on the course. Sergio did not feel comfortable to go on and he acted professionally by nipping the situation in the bud."

Another professional joined the three amateurs, who included the head of the Andalusian Tourist Board and the owner of a local hotel, on the 10th tee.

It has been suggested that Garcia, 20, who won twice in his first five months as a professional but not since, has some maturing to do and was criticised for missing Spain's defence of Alfred Dunhill Cup. Jose Maria Olazabal, who led the team to a second successive win, said: "Sergio has a few things to learn in the next few years. We all make mistakes and hopefully he will learn from his."

The Volvo Masters is the first of a double-header to end the season in Spain. More than £1m is available for winning here at the Montecastillo course and at Valderrama next week, so Lee Westwood's lead at the top of the order of merit is not safe. Colin Montgomerie, the seven-time winner who is currently lying sixth, said: "If I win both events, I'll be fine. I don't need to win the order of merit, I've got the T-shirt, but I'd like to prove I'm the force I was and am. I'd like to show the competition who I am."

Simon McCarthy's quest for a place on the European Tour is on course after the second round of the qualifying school's stage two in Spain yesterday. After a five-under 66 in Tuesday's opening round, the Royal North Devon professional maintained his fine form with a four-under 67 yesterday for a nine-under-par aggregate of 133 and a one-shot advantage over a posse of players on 134.

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