Garcia suffers Sawgrass nightmare

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The Independent Online

Sergio Garcia, the golden boy of Europe last year, slumped to an 82 in the opening round of the Players Championship - golf's richest-ever event - in Florida today.

On a Sawgrass course described as "seriously tough" by Darren Clarke, delighted with a level par 72 in the windy conditions, Garcia revived memories of his horror time in the Open at Carnoustie last summer.

There the 20-year-old Spaniard had dissolved into tears and into the arms of his mother after scoring rounds of 89 and 83 to finish dead last.

This time no tears came, no mother was needed and he was not even last.

But it was still a sorry-looking Garcia who spoke afterwards and reflected on his poor start not only to the tournament - he was 13 strokes behind leader Hal Sutton, the only man to break 70 - but also to the new season.

The world's media were waiting for him when he finished and after enquiring about their well-being Garcia, playing the majority of his golf now on the US Tour, said: "I'm worse than you.

"I didn't play well and I missed three putts of three feet or less. It was tough, but I tried to keep going and did the best I could.

"It was difficult to get the right club and four or five bogeys came after hitting what I thought were good shots.

"I'm not playing well, but I'm working on it and I just need one good tournament."

He would love it to be the Masters at Augusta in two weeks' time, of course, but he admitted: "It's taking time."

Partnered now by Nick Faldo's former caddie Fanny Sunesson, Garcia was only one over par after six holes, but then dropped six shots in the next three.

First he thinned a five-iron second into the lake at the long 16th - his seventh - and took a bogey six, then he went into the same stretch of water on the 137-yard island green 17th, one of the most famous holes in golf and one which incredibly saw almost a third of the field fail to find the putting surface.

Three-putting from 15 feet compounded the error and meant a triple bogey six, then he missed the green on the next and three-putted from only 12 feet for a double bogey six.

Most eyes were on Tiger Woods at the start of the race for the incredible first prize of 1.08million dollars and, although he also hit trouble on the 17th by being among those who went into the water and running up a double bogey five, it was still a good day for the world number one.

Seeking his fourth victory of the season and 14th success in the last 10 months, Woods posted a one under par 71 to be only two behind Sutton.

"He's the man to beat again," said Colin Montgomerie, after a 75 matched by defending champion David Duval.

Open champion Paul Lawrie and Ian Woosnam were one shot worse than that and Lee Westwood could manage only a 77, but Nick Faldo toiled hard for a 73 late in the day.

German Bernhard Langer, who became a father for the fourth time on Monday, was the leading European in joint second place after a 70.

Westwood, fifth and sixth in the tournament the last two years, described his putting as "diabolical."

The 26-year-old, now working with Faldo's old coach David Leadbetter, said: "I'm comfortable with what David is telling me and I hit it well tee to green. But I really couldn't have scored any worse.

"It's always difficult here, but that should have been a lot better."

He had five bogeys in a back nine 41, birdied the second, but then finished with a bogey six, failing to get up and down from just short of the green.

Clarke, who beat Sutton, Duval and then Woods to become World Match Play champion a month ago, had an impressive 14 pars, two birdies and two bogeys.

"Par is probably 74 and I'm delighted with a 72," said the Ulsterman, whose stature appears to have grown since his California triumph.

"I was not swinging it 100%, but I ground it out and did what I needed to do.

"If I can shoot 72 in difficult conditions like these then I am moving in the right direction. I'd give my game 6 1/2 (out of 10) and my head 9 1/2. That's a pleasant change."

Montgomerie thought the realistic par went up another couple of strokes as the wind got stronger in the afternoon and laboured to the turn in 41 with trips to the water on the short 13th - he triple-bogeyed that - and 18th.

But he had four birdies in a front nine 34 and said: "That was not bad in the end. I hit the wrong shots at the wrong time on the way out, but this is a tough course when it's flat calm and today it was yucky.

"Tiger's possibly the only guy sleeping easy tonight. He's right there - but I'm not saying it's over."

Woods commented: "I would have taken anything under par and that's what I've achieved, even though I did get to three under before the 17th."

The fiendish hole also caught out John Daly, who four days after shooting an 87 at the Bay Hill Invitational matched Garcia's triple bogey six.

Daly put two balls in the water, but still got out of the day with "only" a five over 77.

Scorecard

3 under: Hal Sutton 2 under: Kenny Perry, Len Mattiace, Billy Mayfair , "Joe" Ozaki (Jpn) ,Lee Janzen, Bernhard Langer (Ger), Brad Fabel Other scores 1 under: Tiger Woods Level: Darren Clarke (Gbr) 1 over: Nick Faldo (Gbr) 3 over: Colin Montgomerie (Gbr) 4 over: Ian Woosnam (Gbr), Paul Lawrie (Gbr) 5 over: Lee Westwood (Gbr) 10 over: Sergio Garcia (Spa)

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