Remember Sergio Garcia when he was the youngest and most dangerous gun, the extraordinary teenager who might just have the game and the nerve to shoot down Tiger Woods?
Remember that skipping run up the fairway in the 1999 USPGA championship when, like a little boy discarding Christmas wrappings, he couldn't wait to see where his latest gift had landed? It was a shot from beneath a tree that was so audacious, so improbable, it might have been fired by his compatriot Seve Ballesteros 20 years earlier. It seemed as though Sergio could do anything then. He beat the Tiger in a hugely hyped skins game and some believed that another marker on future greatness had been laid down.
Yesterday, though, it might have all belonged to another world - and another Sergio. As he goes, at 24, into his eighth Open there is a markedly quieter tone to his voice. The petulance which came with the first questioning of his automatic ascent to the peaks of golf is also significantly muted.
Just a few months ago, in Augusta, he bridled angrily at the suggestion that his time of maximum opportunity was slipping away. Here he faces up to the question that you have to suspect haunts him most... did he run too hard, too soon?
Says Garcia: "I think that everything happens for a reason. I would have loved to win a major as early as '99 when I had that chance in the PGA. But I think there's something positive out of every experience. I do think there are guys that get a bit luckier when they have their chance and they come through and win, and there are some other guys that it has taken them a bit longer and a bit more learning experience and getting used to being in that position in majors. And the only thing I can do is keep working hard and giving myself chances.
"That's the only thing I can ask for. I think if I do that I'll definitely come through. I'm positive about that, I feel like I'm good enough to do it. I've got to keep being positive about it. I think if I do that I'll be fine." If it sounds more a prayer than a prediction there is reason enough. All across golf there is the conviction that Garcia needs to win soon if a nag isn't to turn into the crippling pain that so long bedevilled this year's Masters winner, Phil Mickelson, and still ravages and disorients the life of Colin Montgomerie.
Adam Scott, the 23-year-old Australian coached by the Tiger's former mentor Butch Harmon, has never matched the precocity of the Spaniard, but his win in the prestigious Players Championship is seen by some as evidence of a steadier march to the top and yesterday he, too, discussed the need for that vital breakthrough in a major tournament. It made it a day when the trigger fingers of the young guns might have been said to be itching at unprecedented levels.
Scott confirmed: "Winning a major is definitively something that plays on your mind. Obviously I think Sergio, more so than me, would feel that he needs to win a major. It seems like he's been a contender for five years, ever since he came out here. I think both of us can say we've got a lot of years ahead of us but we're playing well right now - so we should try to take the chance if we get it and that's kind of the attitude that I'm taking into all the majors. It's that if I can play well and get myself into the position there's no reason why I shouldn't win the tournament. I know I can. I finished it off at the Players Championship and in a couple of others in the US and in Europe and beat some good fields.
"Here though this is a different kind of pressure with it being a major tournament. It kind of defines people's careers."
With Justin Rose, a phenomenon at 17 in his first major, absent here, the line between brilliant and utterly fulfilled youth has perhaps rarely been so poignantly drawn. Garcia himself sketched some of it when he was invited to remember the time eight years ago when the Open winner, Tom Lehman, handed him the claret jug and said he should get the feel of it because it was surely something that would come inevitably into his possession. That was the American's reaction to a touching gesture by Garcia in an Italian restaurant at the halfway stage of the tournament at Royal Lytham. Garcia, who had played as an amateur at the age of 16 and failed to beat the cut, had been taken to the restaurant by his family. Garcia recalled: "Tom was having dinner right next to us and I just walked to his table and said, 'You know I think you deserve to win. It's time for you to win a major.' It looked like he really liked that comment.
"After he won it I was congratulating him and he said, 'You better get hold of this cup because I think you have to get used to it because you're going to do it. So you better start practising'. It was a nice thing to say and it made me think that maybe I could win it more than once."
Yesterday Garcia was asked the hard but unavoidable question: if you go out to dinner on Friday and bump into Tom Lehman and he says 'it's time you won the Open' will he be right?
If you looked very hard you might just have seen Sergio Garcia gulp. But then he did say quickly enough: "All I ever ask myself is that I give myself a chance - that I play well. I have to believe that if you do that often enough you will win. I hope it is true."
It was not quite the same as swinging open the saloon doors, but that is the demand of today's performance - when the ageing young gun goes looking for his first overdue kill.Reuse content