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Garcia overcomes putting demons to regain pride after spectacular fall

Sergio Garcia is sporting a new haircut at Congressional. It's not severe enough to be a Last of the Mohicans Mohawk; it's more a Fauxhawk. But it's not what's on the outside of Garcia's head that causes all his trouble; it's what's going on inside.

He was supposed to be the new Seve Ballesteros when he exploded on to the scene as a 19-year-old in 1999 and went head to head with Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship. But Garcia, 31, is now 0 for 47 in the majors, as American stat geeks like to say.

So it's just typical of Garcia's bad luck that when he hangs around par after 36 holes of a US Open, as you're supposed to, Rory McIlroy chooses to channel the spirit of Woods to lap the field. Garcia followed up a first-round 69 with a 71 to be two under par for the championship. Perfectly placed in the race to be runner-up.

Such has been Garcia's fall from grace that he had to grind through 36 holes of a qualifying tournament in Memphis just to make it to Maryland. Nothing comes easy these days for the once freewheeling teen phenomenon. He was No 2 in the world just two years ago. Now he is buried at No 76 sandwiched between Frenchmen Gregory Bourdy and Raphael Jacquelin, players that are so anonymous on the world stage their own mothers would fail to pick them out of a police line-up.

Garcia was grumpy on Thursday evening after missing a tiddler of a putt to bogey the 18th. He started in the same frustrating manner at his first hole (the 10th) in the second round. This time it was a birdie that got away. His putting demons were once again tormenting him. The "woe is me" part of his personality could have begun to whittle away at his confidence, especially when he dropped a shot at the 11th. But Garcia dug deep and fought back.

He holed a 40-footer at the 13th to get to two under par and did it again at the 16th to save par. Seve would have been proud. He hooked his drive into the trees, hacked up the side of the rough, slashed a wedge on to the green and willed the ball to drop into the hole with its last roll.

Garcia was the only one of his three amigos group to be smiling. And when did that happen last? Alvaro Quiros was grimacing and muttering to himself. The only thing sharp about him was his trademark pencil-thin sideburns.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was playing like a man happily growing old disgracefully with his stogies, rioja and ponytail that, quite frankly, shouldn't be seen on a 47-year-old.

Garcia missed another short putt at the 17th. Only a par. It's the five-footers that haunt him. Every time he stands over one, doubt must enter his brain like a ticking bomb.

Where once there was a raging war between Garcia and US Open crowds, there is now support and sympathy. He all but entered the crowd in New York in 2002 to fight hecklers counting out his waggles before he hit each shot. His waggle yips are mostly under control these days and maybe his luck is about to change. That's if McIlroy decides to take a sabbatical.

Garcia pushed his drive at the 18th. The target from under the branches where Garcia stood looked no bigger than a beer mat. He decided to take it on. The waggle count increased to a dozen with the tension of the challenge. The ball fizzed towards the greens but began to follow the contours of the land towards the water. Deep breath. It stopped on the precipice. And breathe out.

A chip left him with his five-foot Nemesis length. He holed it for par. Nemesis tamed. Now if only he could do the same with McIlroy. "Even par was a good round," Garcia said, "but I didn't play well enough. I was fighting to make pars."

Garcia would be in with a chance of victory if he weren't nine shots behind McIlroy. He sounded like he had already given up any hope. "It will be great for him to win," he said. "He's a wonderful player and a nice kid. But I have bigger worries than Rory McIlroy."