Garcia's solo show silences his critics
Monday 20 September 2004
From Garcia, a European surge just when necessary to halt the American momentum.
"Miss it, miss it, miss it," the tones of the fellow with rubicund features and an eardrum-fracturing whoop reached a crescendo as he witnessed, through his periscope viewer, Sergio Garcia's short putt trickle adrift of its target on the first green. "Missed it," the spectator grunted, his desperation turning to satisfaction, as though he had contributed personally to the Spaniard's ill-fortune and his champion, Phil Mickelson's reprieve.
Out here, on this final day, all masks of forbearance for the opposition were removed. Raucous partisanship was again de rigueur. Out here, in isolation, with no one fellow player to comfort or counsel in these final day singles, there would be the making of men, and in some cases the breaking of them. In which category, many pondered, would fall Garcia, a Ryder Cup colossus over the previous two days, harvesting three and a half points, but ominously, from the Europe perspective, a player defeated in the singles at both Brookline and The Belfry?
Two's great company in the foursomes and fourballs. The singles are a different afternoon's labours altogether. All the expectations were that this format would represent a lonely vigil to Garcia, second for Europe off the tee, and one of the crucial watchmen of the visitors' cause.
The answer to all doubts from the Spaniard was definitive.
The denouement came on the 16th. Not in high drama, but in black comedy. Par from Garcia was all that was necessary on the signature hole, with Mickelson's drive finding the lake. It was a watery graveyard for the American's aspirations, too. With every vestige of pressure removed, the Spaniard putted home, removed his baseball cap, produced that trademark piston drive of the fist, and looked for someone to engage in his pleasure. For the moment, his caddie, Glenn Murray, was the fortunate recipient of a bear-hug. After this weekend, one of sport's most eligible bachelors, the man whose "squeezes" include Martina Hingis, could take his choice.
It represented Europe's first point of a long, sultry afternoon. But more crucially a sublime performance, recovering from two holes down at the eighth, to secure the match 3&2, provided a stimulus that engendered a galvanising of the European spirit when early matches had suggested that the American dream had not yet died.
For a time, there had been simply too many red advantages on the leaderboard for team captain Bernhard Langer's comfort. When Garcia transformed his position within two games, with birdies on the 10th and 11th, that burst of blue was akin to the Tories taking Basildon. It was a symbolic rejection of the United States' supremacy on this last day. Though players deny that they are influenced by matches proceeding ahead of them and behind them, one cannot believe that such victorious skirmishes do not have considerable bearing on the destination of Samuel Ryder's trophy.
There was no greater justice than that it should have been Garcia who effectively placed the European flag on American soil to retain the prize.
For two days, in the foursomes, he had played brother-confessor to his friend, the European rookie Luke Donald, even though Garcia is three years his junior. It scarcely appears credible. Three Ryder Cups, and still only 24? What can he become when he grows up?
Even when the most onerous pressure has assailed him over these three days, the Spaniard has played joker to the crowd. Even, at times, engaging in repartee with lurking American TV reporters. The Spaniard has been ubiquitous. Glance at one of the giant screens on Saturday, and there he was gesturing, pointing, debating. No wonder, another friend, the Swede Jesper Parnevik describes him as "a 12-year-old on acid".
But the player, who has yet to win a major, is the master of the unexpected, in both the positive and negative sense, in the manner of his compatriot Ballesteros. Sometimes a drive will be grotesquely amiss, but as his advocates will contend, there is always the chance that he will summon a magnificent recovery shot. He plays galleries, even those which may be initially hostile, to him, with the practice of a veteran stand-up.
By Saturday, the galleries, whose exuberance had slowly been throttled out of them, began to take El Nino to their heart. A conversion not quite of St Paul's Damascus proportions but one here, on the road out of Detroit, that is indeed one to savour.
They acclaim him because of his sense of adventure, a feature not always forthcoming in their own players during this tournament, particularly on that first day, when Sutton conceded that caution was too much a US byword. On Saturday, in the opening fourball with Lee Westwood, Garcia concluded with an audacious recovery at the 18th with a putt which set off at right angles to the pin. He performed something similar in the foursomes, with Donald, and left the rookie with a facile opportunity to repel a last-hole revival from Jim Furyk and Fred Funk. The joy was unconfined. In football, it would have been a jersey over the head job for the Real Madrid follower.
If Langer is the precise stage manager of this European touring orchestra, and the avuncular Montgomerie (albeit at the age of 41) a principal soloist, then Garcia determines its mood and rhythms.
Team captains acknowledge, though, that with such a liberated spirit, the dark side lurks beneath the surface. Only two years ago at The Belfry, the man from Castellon responded petulantly to a last hole defeat by Tiger Woods and Davis Love, when partnering Westwood. It would have given the European pair four out of four, and according to Sam Torrance, "a moment of glory against Woods, theirs being a rivalry with enough wattage to light up a small town".
Garcia hurled his ball into the water and kicked his bag in a display of temper. Sutton, maybe not in the best of demeanours himself, having just been defeated by Langer, muttered that he had some growing up to do.
It is unlikely that words of Sutton, or anyone else, will quell the instinctive behaviour of the player who emerged as a teenager in 1995 to claim the European Amateur Championship.
Yesterday, both players started with a bogey, then a par, but with the Spaniard knowing he had spurned a chance on the first when, with Mickelson having sent his drive into the trees, found a greenside bunker. The American was a picture of relief when the hole was halved.
It was an edgy introduction to the contest by both players. Mickelson was still struggling to find the fairways. Garcia had no difficulty in finding sand, achieving that feat on the first three holes.
On the third, he succumbed, going one down. The crowd, frequently deprived of such pleasures over the preceding two days, greeted the minor triumph of Mickelson like a returning war hero.
But Garcia, for all his joie de vivre, can respond sternly to a challenge when required. Birdies at holes nine, 10 and 11 confirmed that, the latter two match-transforming. It was to prove infectious. "Yeah, I think it was big," he said of his first point secured for Europe. "I hope it helped the guys coming after me, seeing that I was coming back a little bit."
From Garcia, a European surge just when necessary to halt the American momentum.
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