Grown-up Garcia loses ebullience of youth

Ken Jones

What people remember most vividly about the golf Sergio Garcia played when taking Tiger Woods to the wire in last year's USPGA Championship at Medina was his excited bound down the fairway after a shot struck astonishingly from the bared roots of a tree.

What people remember most vividly about the golf Sergio Garcia played when taking Tiger Woods to the wire in last year's USPGA Championship at Medina was his excited bound down the fairway after a shot struck astonishingly from the bared roots of a tree.

Whether the exuberance of youth or merely something in his nature, Garcia insists that such demonstrations should no longer be expected of him. "I'm here to play golf not put on a show," the 20-year-old Spaniard said at St Andrews yesterday after a 69 in the second round got him to seven under for the Open Championship.

The correct assumption is that Garcia has quickly grown up, some say too quickly. More mature but disappointingly less adventurous. Garcia has it in him to be one of golf's great entertainers, the natural successor to his compatriot and hero Seve Ballesteros, but will the quest for efficiency lessen his appeal?

In the Open at Carnoustie last year the boy wonder had a nightmare, failing tearfully to make the cut after rounds of 89 and 83. Nobody put up a higher number. Proving that he had the temperament to overcome a massive blow to his confidence and the inordinate praise that had been heaped on him, Garcia was soon back.

Asked yesterday if he had come to his second Open as a professional feeling Carnou-stie's chill blast, Garcia shook his head. "It didn't bother me," he insisted. "A lot has happened since then and this is another Open Championship. There was never a thought in my mind that I could play as badly as last year. I wasn't going to shoot 80-something around here, certainly not in these conditions."

The biliousness with which many tournament golfers regard the outside world during their weekly struggles is seldom evident in Garcia but he has learned how to handle interrogation. He wasn't entirely happy with yesterday's round, especially a three-putt bogey at 17, but stressed the importance of being well in contention.

One of the impressions you get is that other players welcome the opportunity to play with Garcia because his enthusiasm is infectious. For example, after playing first from the second fairway he wandered ahead, not merely to get sight of his ball on the green but to applaud the efforts of his playing partners, Vijay Singh and Jim Carter. Garcia, it seems, has the knack of being able to get on with his game while sparing a thought for others. This is clearly appreciated as is his sunny response to applause from the galleries.

Going off at four under in the best conditions imaginable, Garcia birdied the first hole and went on serenely despite a succession of delays caused by the Old Course's unique configuration of double greens and intersecting fairways.

At the par-five fifth both Garcia and Singh took the birdie opportunities on offer and when the Spaniard added another at the seventh great things were expected of him.

Tradition decrees respect for St Andrews but not all the competitors feel it, although they don't air their views publicly. Since 10-minute delays are no exception this week, St Andrews is thought of more affectionately by golf historians than tournament professionals.

On such a still day the Old Course held no terrors yesterday but it's impossible for some players to complete a round anywhere in the world without finding something to disturb their emotions. For instance, Colin Montgomerie was out of sorts in a group ahead of Garcia that included Davis Love III, who wasn't in an equable mood either when they left the 12th tee, both complaining about cameras.

When Garcia came to the 12th he had cancelled out a bogey at the ninth with a birdie at the next and proceeded to pick up another. "By then I was thinking about nine under," he said, "but, unfortunately, I left some shots out there, missed some makeable putts."

He also made a mess of the 17th when the course jumped up and bit him. Pretty good from tee to green but three putts for bogey. "I wasn't pleased with that," Garcia said, words doubtless echoed by Singh when he dropped two shots at the par five 14th.

Garcia was told during this year's US Open that his putting stance was flawed. In order to correct this fault he was advised to adopt a crossed-hands method. Despite this dropped shot at 17th he thinks his putting is now in order.

Yesterday, both Garcia and Singh were far happier than at Carnoustie when they missed the cut from the same threeball. The only thing in Garcia's mind now is to be in touch with whoever is leading tomorrow.

"It would be great to be out there with Tiger," he said. "I'd love it." That would stir up some excitement, maybe even a leap or two.

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