Sergio Garcia's preparation for the Open, already showing signs of some psychological frailty under the weight of Tiger Woods' presence, was further complicated yesterday when his friend and assistant manager, Carlos Rodriguez, was rushed to a local hospital after receiving a serious leg injury when a golf buggy backed into him and pinned him against a clubhouse wall.
Garcia was on the practice putting green at the time. He rushed to his friend's side, on the way shouting: "It could only happen here."
Rodriguez was given oxygen and had a pain-killing injection before being moved into an ambulance. Garcia, driven by his caddie Glenn Murray, followed the ambulance to Blackpool's Victoria Hospital. The golfer's mother, Consuelo, rode in the ambulance. It was a fierce example of the passionate loyalties that sometimes envelop the Garcia clan and which some feel need to be loosened if the intense, 21-year-old Spaniard is to step one notch beyond the precocious brilliance which has already brought him two US tour victories this year.
Before the incident Garcia, who had left the Scottish Open at Loch Lomond on Sunday complaining that poor greens had wrecked his build-up to the 130th Open – a fine from the European PGA duly followed – had talked about the pressures building around his attempt to win his first major and Peter Allis, doyen of golf commentators, had been quoted to the effect that the best thing that could happen to the prodigy is a good spanking. Within the hour, and with his putter cast aside, Garcia was sitting in his caddie's car waiting anxiously for doctors and paramedics to move Rodriguez into the ambulance.
Garcia's distress may have been heightened by an eyewitness's statement that the buggy's driver was standing up while making what turned out to be a highly dangerous manoeuvre in a crowded area, but some were quick to contrast his emotional response with the probable reaction of Team Woods if one of their number had become a victim of careless clubhouse traffic. One view was that such misfortune probably wouldn't have befallen the Tiger, and if it had he would have satisfied himself that his friend was getting full attention before returning to the tunnel down which he travels to every major event.
But then Woods has six major titles and is well on his way to proving himself the most single-minded golfer in the history of the game. Garcia, who has been urged to break from the potentially claustrophobic coaching regime of his father Victor, is plainly only just getting over the trauma of his disastrous Open at Carnoustie two years ago, when his first-round 89 left him so shaken and in the consoling arms of the busy trouble-shooter Consuelo.
Yesterday Garcia was able to discuss that pratfall, and the lessons he learned from it, which some saw as a kind of psychological healing. With the flicker of a smile, he said: "I learned not to hit it in the thick rough. That was the first point. But most of all I learned you just have to be patient. Sometimes when you hit it into that stuff, it don't have to be fancy, you just got to take your bogey and go to the next and try to come back.
"You don't want to try to do too much out of this kind of rough, first of all because it is probably not going to work out and, second of all, because you can hurt yourself, then instead of playing the whole tournament you play only a round or two."
This was a drily reflective Sergio who had moved some way from the ground on which he briefly entranced America when challenging Woods in the US PGA, when he rushed up a fairway, leaping to see where his ball had landed rather like a refugee from the set of The Sound of Music. But despite his recent rush of form, and victories in the Buick and Colonial tournaments, there is still more than a hint of someone walking a delicate line between acceptable pressure and unreasonable hopes.
Over him, he hardly bothers to argue the point, is the vast shadow of Tiger Woods. Yesterday he said: "Beating Tiger is beating the No 1 player in the world, so of course that would make you feel real good. I do feel pressure to win my first major, but it is something I know I have to live with. Of course you want to win but you don't want to put too much pressure on yourself because if you do that I think you are going to lose your chance of winning. I just want to try to play as I did in the US Open, just try to play well and put myself in a good position to win, and then if I can do it on a Sunday, perfect; if not I will keep trying.
"I don't want to come here saying, 'Well, I have to win this week – I have to win my first major' because I think these tournaments are hard enough the way they are to put some more pressure on yourself. You can't put too much pressure on yourself. It just can't work like that."
It was an impeccable position to take after a week of some controversy, and there was, too, a new degree of amiability when difficult questions were raised. The C word – Carnoustie – was flicked away without a frown and when someone addressed him as Tiger he merely smiled, albeit rather wistfully. He was asked if a rising wind would help Woods. "It all depends how he plays; if he plays well, he can win anywhere," Garcia said.
Soon enough, he was immersed in the crisis of his friend. He was told that Rodriguez was comfortable but would require an operation on his shattered ankle. Garcia was too distressed to make a statement. He is due to tee off at 1.58pm today, nearly five hours after the Tiger. Hours which, you have to suspect, will drag terribly on the spirit of golf's most turbulent prince, trapped, for the moment at least, by the pain of a stricken friend – and life in the shadow of Tiger Woods.Reuse content