Garcia must get to grips with growing pains

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The Independent Online

Sergio Garcia is the crown prince of golf, a millionaire many times over and these last two days he has been operating here at the spiritual home of his first mentor, Seve Ballesteros. But he is also just 21 years old, which made him a resident of his mother Consuelo's womb when Ballesteros completed his second great outbreak of Spanish artistry and imagination to win another Open at Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1979. Briefly, painfully, yesterday it showed.

The more he tried to talk away the pressure, the younger and more vulnerable he looked. For a few unguarded minutes Sergio Garcia was, if he did not occupy the foetal position again, a very young chico indeed.

After submitting to inquisition by the Spanish media, to whom he admitted he had played horribly, worse than he had for more than a year, and mingling briefly with glad-handing golf executives massing outside the clubhouse, he slipped behind the tall hedge which affords the players a little privacy on the practice putting green.

He slid on to his back and spread his arms wide. It was the act of someone who had briefly reached the limit of his tether. His father and coach, Victor, prodded him gently with the handle of his putter and when the boy eventually got back to his feet he was embraced by his friend and Ryder Cup partner Jesper Parnevik.

The Swede, who had just jumped five shots in front of his young friend, who is even for the tournament, with a finely sculpted 68, embraced Garcia and told him: "You're a great player, don't worry – you'll get the breaks, and you'll deserve them. And you're not out of this tournament."

It was a point which Garcia had clung to in his post-round interrogation, saying: "I hated the way I played, I couldn't really make anything happen, but I liked the way I was able to keep my score together. I don't believe I'm completely out of it, but I know I have to come out strongly tomorrow. I think I've got to shoot six or seven under to really get back into it."

Garcia, who shot a one over par 72, had to fight a rising tide of angst as his round dwindled to its disappointing close. On the 17th green, after a 30-foot putt died a few inches from the lip, he stared down his putter and yelled: "What can you do?" On the 18th his shoulders slumped again when, after being forced to take a drop for relief from fencing, he again left a putt short and took bogey.

There was some added poignancy in Garcia's failure to ignite. It was here that Ballesteros had twice so thrilled the galleries, performing shots of exquisite touch and unfettered imagination, and Garcia at least gave lip-service to the idea that he might have re-kindled such memories. "I wanted to do something here, for sure, because it was Seve's place, but sometimes the harder you try the tougher it gets. I just have to go to the range and work on it. Really, I'm not that far away."

He was asked about the mounting sense that this 130th Open is presenting him with a package of insuperable problems. He came here after a row with the authorities at the Scottish Open, earning a fine from the European Tour for his scathing remarks about the greens at Loch Lomond. This sentence was delivered as Garcia returned from Blackpool's Victoria Hospital, where his friend and assistant manager, Carlos Rodriguez, had been rushed with a smashed ankle after being pinned against the clubhouse wall by a buggy. Not, perhaps, the perfect approach to the challenge of walking in the footsteps of Seve Ballesteros but Garcia was quick to say: "Maybe the accident to Carlos did not help me, but I don't want to make that an excuse. I have to work to get things right. The answers lay with nobody else but me."

When a Spanish reporter asked Garcia what was wrong, he grimaced and muttered: "Todos – everything." In fact his game is a notch off, and if he needed any reminders of how easily it might be restored he had only to consider the depth of the crisis that has come to his ageing hero, Ballesteros.

Ballesteros made his familiar early exit from the tournament which he once filled with such a glow of expectation, seven over after two rounds, but not before some fleeting reminders of how things used to be. He put together three straight birdies, but they were framed by bogeys, and for once he mostly kept the ball on the fairways. However, at the par-three 12th hole yesterday, which Garcia played with some accomplishment for a par, Ballesteros showed the nature of his decline. He hit his tee shot way left, in the rough beneath the stand at the green, but his recovery shot was beautiful, as brilliant as it was mysterious, rolling two feet from the pin. Ballesteros stepped up to miss the putt, and there you had the last few, pain-racked years in their essence.

Still, he could light up the sky with the extraordinary range and touch of his irons. But with a driver and a putter he had become a man not to be trusted. For any golfer, this is the harshest of fates. For a Ballesteros, still so capable of producing isolated moments of sporting rhapsody, it is a long and calculated cruelty.

Parnevik's reassurances apart, Garcia's problems had to be kept in the sharpest perspective yesterday. They are plainly to do with the business of growing, as a golfer and a person. This week he had warred with authority, been rapped over the knuckles, and seen a close friend suffer a severe and avoidable accident. It was perhaps not the most desirable baggage to carry into a tournament as demanding as the Open, and Garcia was candid enough to accept that this was so. But he didn't run for the cover of it yesterday. He merely slipped to one over par – and tried to lose himself, for a minute or two, behind an English hedge.