Garcia shines with unforgettable fire

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The Independent Online

Jose Maria Olazabal, one of the more gifted artists of Europe's renaissance in the Ryder Cup, sounded like a paint salesman after he and his compatriot, Sergio Garcia, had drawn first blood for their team. "What was the secret of your success?" Olazabal was asked. "Sergio," he replied. "He was just awesome."

The Spanish twosome had triumphed 3 and 2 in the morning's fourballs against David Toms and the debutant Brett Wetterich. The timing of the victory was important because a few minutes earlier Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk had posted the first point of the match by beating Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie at the 18th. When Garcia rolled up a perfectly weighted putt for a "gimme" birdie four at the 555-yard 16th hole it was checkmate. Olazabal, the senior partner, treated Garcia like a long lost son, maintaining a Spanish tradition in golf's ultimate competition.

Olazabal's total of nine-and-a-half points for Europe in the fourball format since his debut in 1987 advanced him to second in the all-time list. He overtook Seve Ballesteros, who has nine, and is one point behind Ian Woosnam. The difference is that Olly is still playing and 19 years ago he carved the dovetail with Ballesteros that helped Europe to a historic triumph at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village in Columbus, Ohio.

Yesterday, for Seve read Olly and for Olly read ... well, Sergio. Woosnam, Europe's captain, said: "Sergio and Jose Maria have been so focused in practice. David and Brett were out in 32 but that front nine from Sergio and Jose Maria was pure magic. Sergio thrives in this atmosphere and you saw it again."

And again. Working against the principle of it if ain't broke don't fix it, Woosnam rested Olazabal for the afternoon foursomes - the Americans left out J J Henry, who had been excellent in the morning - and paired Garcia with the young Englishman Luke Donald against Woods and Furyk. There again, they were going to team up sooner or later for, in the foursomes in Detroit two years ago Garcia and Donald, won two out of two.

Yesterday afternoon, in what Don King would have billed a grudge match, they maintained their record with another priceless win against America's top pairing, the match going the distance although Woods and Furyk never led.

Beforehand, both Garcia (pictured) and Donald had called into question Tiger's Ryder Cup record and commitment to the team ethic, views dismissed as nonsense by the United States captain, Tom Lehman. The fact is Tiger did not play out of his skin, which is something he reserves for major championships. He looked uncomfortable in the morning, when Harrington and Montgomerie let him off the hook, and again in the afternoon. He and Furyk took a six at the first and when the Anglo-Spanish combo got a birdie three at the fifth they were two up.

However, they could never shake off the Americans. Two birdies, at the 13th, where Furyk holed out from long range for a three, and at the next, where Tiger's tee shot finished 15 inches from the flag, made it all square and Garcia's brilliant approach to the 16th was nullified by another gutsy putt from Furyk. The hole was halved in birdie fours, but at the 17th Garcia would not be denied.

This time his approach nestled three feet from the hole and Donald did the honours and Furyk did not. At one up with one to play, Garcia's and Donald's task was made easier at the last where Furyk found the water instead of the green with the second shot. At that point the heavens opened and the course was given another lashing of rain.

Garcia, undiluted, was having a ball. Yes, he was left in Tiger's wake when he had a chance to strike a blow in the Open at Hoylake, but match play agrees with him. So do the huge galleries here who could not have given him a louder cheer had he been Istabraq passing the winning post at the Cheltenham Festival.

"There's nothing like it," Garcia said. "I had, what you say, goose bumps down the back of my neck." Seve and Olly know the feeling.

Although the latter praised Garcia to the skies, the respect was mutual. "It helps to play with someone of Jose Maria's experience," Sergio said. "We gelled beautifully."

What's the Spanish for goose bumps?

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