Hard to believe that Sergio Garcia had become so disillusioned with the game he considered walking away at the age of 31. Three years on Garcia has a twinkle in his eye once more, second at the Open to Rory McIlroy a fortnight ago, the Spaniard carried that form with him across the Atlantic to equal the Firestone course record with a 61 on Friday and when the weather intervened on Saturday he led by five on 14 under par with three to play.
A second round back nine negotiated in only 27 strokes featured eight birdies, seven of those on the spin. It was he claimed, the best round of his career. “I've been fortunate to have some good rounds, but that was definitely my lowest round in tournament play and also my lowest nine holes. So it was very nice,” Garcia said modestly.
Only Lee Westwood has played more consecutive majors without a win, 63 plays 61. When a teenage Garcia skipped around that tree at Medinah in the 1999 PGA Championship en route to a second placed finish to a peak Tiger Woods, it seemed that Spain was unveiling its next major champion after Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. Yet still we wait.
He added a third place at the PGA in 2006 and was runner-up again two years later, one of four seconds in majors. Garcia bridges the era of Woods, Phil Mickelson Ernie Els, et al with the fearless twenty-somethings led by McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and lately Jordan Spieth. Watching him shred Firestone so effortlessly, not to mention the chasing down of McIlroy on the final day at Royal Liverpool it is inconceivable that the fates can deny him much longer.
“Everybody looks at you as second and they want to make it a negative. Not at all. I felt like I played well. I felt like I did almost everything I could. And there was a better player. It's as simple as that. You don't have to look at other things. It's just that simple,” Garcia said after coming up two shots shy of the winning score at Hoylake.
“All these weeks help in majors and in tournaments. Even if you don't win, they still help. I try to look at the positives. And there's always a lot more positives than negatives. And that to me that's where I want to take it.”
Garcia carried on today in much the same vein birdying three of his opening six holes to reach 14 under par and extend his advantage to five over McIlroy, who had bridied three to the turn to wrestle second from Justin Rose.
The players were out of bed early in groups of three from split tees to head off a weather front forecast to hit Akron in the afternoon. Tiger Woods was among the earlier starters and struggled to make any headway. The pattern of the week for Woods followed that set at Hoylake, posting his lowest score on day one then ascending.
He is, it must be remembered, playing only his third tournament since returning from back surgery in April. That he is swinging a club at all at this juncture is a miracle. The final major of the season has probably come too early for him, just as it is too soon to pass judgement on his long term prospects.
Woods beat the weather suspension carding a 72 to close one over par, 15 strokes behind Garcia, who along with McIlroy had three holes of his third round to complete when the players left the course. “I've still got a long way to go as far as my strength and explosiveness, but all that's coming around,” Woods said.