Spain's reign is inspired by Garcia

DUNHILL CUP Three golfing amigos combine youthful exuberance and experience to outflank Australians

SERGIO GARCIA'S team-mates, older, wiser and more experienced, knew what they were doing when handing the captaincy to the 19-year-old. El Nino's inspirational genius led Spain to victory in the Alfred Dunhill Cup for the first time after beating Australia 2-1 in the final. Flanked by his two amigos from the Ryder Cup team who did most of the work yesterday, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Garcia was last night holding the trophy aloft in front of the famous Royal and Ancient clubhouse.

SERGIO GARCIA'S team-mates, older, wiser and more experienced, knew what they were doing when handing the captaincy to the 19-year-old. El Nino's inspirational genius led Spain to victory in the Alfred Dunhill Cup for the first time after beating Australia 2-1 in the final. Flanked by his two amigos from the Ryder Cup team who did most of the work yesterday, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez, Garcia was last night holding the trophy aloft in front of the famous Royal and Ancient clubhouse.

It will be, hopefully, a sunnier and warmer Sunday evening next July at the conclusion of the Open when the champion golfer for the millennium year will parade the old claret jug in similar fashion. After his remarkable debut on the Old Course, Garcia could be that champion.

The phrase "remarkable debut" has followed Garcia around since he turned professional, which only happened after he won the amateur honours at the Masters in April. Even his last visit to the east coast of Scotland, when he departed after only two rounds of the Open with a score of 30 over par, was spectacular. But any suggestion that Garcia's Carnoustie nightmare was representative of his ability in general and aptitude for links golf in particular has been conclusively dismissed.

Anyone who can win a British Amateur title at Muirfield appreciates the subtleties of the game played along the ground, compared to through the air on the lush turf of most tour venues, the preferred version of the likes of Lee Westwood and Mark James. Of course, Garcia can do both and only a week ago won his second tour title at the German Masters. This week he plays for the first time in the World Match Play over the West Course at Wentworth, which he got to grips with at the PGA Championship in May and closed with a 66.

Ironically, after remaining unbeaten with three rounds of 67 in the group stages, Garcia did not win a point on the day. Having picked himself to take on Ernie Els, he lost by two after a 72 but victories for Jimenez and Olazabal meant Spain avenged themselves for a defeat in the final by South Africa a year ago, previously the Spaniards' best outing in the event.

After failing in their attempt to become the first country to win the tournament for a third successive year, the South Africans went off to watch their compatriots against the Spanish with the oval ball. Garcia birdied three of the last five holes but Els held firm, unlike Darren Clarke who lost to the Kid after being three ahead with three to play on Saturday.

Craig Parry, whose Australian team had beaten Sweden 2-1 in the other semi-final, also kept Garcia at bay for this 13th win in 16 matches at the Dunhill Cup. Three times Garcia played the notorious 17th over the weekend and each time he turned the most delightful approach to give himself a birdie putt, the long, low pitch and runs catching the contours of the green perfectly.

But, for the third time, he two-putted after Parry had got up and down from the path behind the green, holing from 20 feet for par. Garcia knocked in an 18-footer himself for a birdie to square the match at the last, both players scoring 69, before three-putting at the play-off hole.

All that prevented was a Spanish whitewash. Just as in the morning, the elder statesmen of the team saved their young leader. Olazabal's 72 beat Stephen Leaney, who four-putted at the seventh, by six strokes and Jimenez got home two in front of Peter O'Malley.

Garcia said: "It's been a good year. I can't ask for more. We were lucky with the weather for three days and it was more difficult today but I played some good shots against Craig. I am looking forward to the Open next year but we'll see. I hope I can play as I did this week."

More typical St Andrews conditions returned yesterday with strong blustery winds making a difference of three or four clubs in shot selection. Leaney and Jarmo Sandelin halved their match with 80s in the semi-finals. The Swede had a triple bogey and two doubles in the first 10 holes to be five behind but the Australian was seven over on the way home. Returning to the first, Sandelin was dismayed to see the gust of wind spring up just after hitting his nine-iron approach and the ball fell short of the green in the Swilcan Burn.

DUNHILL CUP (St Andrews): Final Spain beat Australia 2-1 (Aus names first): C Parry 69 bt S Garcia 69 (Parry won play-off at first extra hole) S Leaney 78 lost to J M Olazabal 72; P O'Malley 75 lost to M A Jimenez 73. Semi- finals Australia bt Sweden 2-1 (Aus names first): C Parry 72 bt G Hjertstedt 75; P O'Malley 78 lost to P Sjoland 76; S Leaney 80 tied with J Sandelin 80 (Leaney won play-off at first extra hole). Spain bt South Africa 2- 1 (Sp names first): S Garcia 72 lost to Ernie Els 70; M A Jiminez 73 bt David Frost 77; J M Olazabal 75 bt Retief Goosen 76.

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