Woods hands the credit to Garcia

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THE LAST major championship of the century pointed the way for golf in the next millennium. Tiger Woods is not going to have it all his own way. On the day that Woods won his second major title - a question of when rather than if after his record-breaking victory at Augusta two years ago - it was ironic that the game embraced a new favourite.

THE LAST major championship of the century pointed the way for golf in the next millennium. Tiger Woods is not going to have it all his own way. On the day that Woods won his second major title - a question of when rather than if after his record-breaking victory at Augusta two years ago - it was ironic that the game embraced a new favourite.

For the second major in succession, the runner-up at the 81st USPGA will not be forgotten. While Woods was feeling the sharp end of some Chicagoans' tongues - "$1,000 you slice it into the water" a loudmouth shouted on the 17th - Sergio Garcia was hearing his name echoing around the stands on the 18th.In precisely the same manner as Seve Ballesteros captured the imagination when he was second to Johnny Miller in the 1976 Open at Royal Birkdale, Garcia charged into contention on the back nine at Medinah when Woods seemed to have taken possession of the Wanamaker Trophy.

"The crowd loved me," said "El Nino", the 19-year-old Spaniard. "I have no words for what they did for me. They were incredible. It looked like I was American."

Never before has golf resembled women's tennis or gymnastics in making a 23-year-old look like a veteran. Woods, leading by five strokes with seven to play, was pegged back to one, the eventual winning margin, by the youngest player in the field.

"Obviously the gallery was rooting for Sergio, as well they should," Woods said. "I didn't think some of the things they said to me were fair but you have to block it out. Sergio played a wonderful round of golf. He needs to be commended for not only the way he played but the way he conducted himself. He was fiery. He never dogged it. It was wonderful to see.

"Sergio and I play a very similar way. We are both aggressive, we hit the ball a long way and we like to be creative. He exudes confidence. One of the things I like about him is that he can take a bad shot and fuel it into a positive. It's neat to see him wear his emotions on his sleeve. The media were all over me for that but hopefully they won't get on him. He's a wonderful kid."

For much of the year Woods and David Duval, who had to concede the No 1 spot on the world rankings he held for a week back to the champion, have been built up into a rivalry. They have never gone at it down the final stretch of a major as Garcia and Woods did on Sunday. Woods preferred a different tack.

"Sergio and I had a wonderful match out there but there are so many good young players. Sergio is still in his teens, but you have David Duval, Justin Leonard and Phil Mickelson in their 20s and wonderful players from around the world like Ernie Els, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. We are all young and going to be around for many years. It's very difficult to pick any two of us. On any given week you can pick two of those but collectively there are a handful of players who are going to lead golf into the next millennium."

Two moments linger from a memorable finale to the fourth dramatic major of the year. At the 13th hole, after sinking an 18-foot, downhill birdie putt, Garcia turned and looked back at Woods on the tee. "I wanted him to know he had to keep playing well to win," Garcia said. Woods promptly double bogeyed the hole.

Then at the 16th, Garcia's drive ended at the base of a tree. Chipping out sideways seemed the only option but he managed to slice a six-iron onto the green. "I opened my stance and took a full swing," he said as if it was that easy. "I closed my eyes on the backswing, went backwards in case the ball came back off the tree, and then, when I opened my eyes, the ball was going to the green."

Garcia took off in pursuit and leapt in the air to see it land safely on the green. "I was so excited I wanted to see where the ball finished. I am a little unhappy that I didn't win, but inside of me I feel I won. I don't know, as a 19-year-old, three months since I turned pro, you can't ask for more. This is a little more than my expectations but I really love it. I don't think I have done anything yet to be someone incredible over other players. I have had a few good tournaments but still a long career to come and that's when I have to prove that I'm something else. But when I turned pro I was hoping to win my first tournament and get on the Ryder Cup team. If you had said I was going to be first in the Irish, second at Loch Lomond and at the USPGA and miss the cut at the British Open by hundreds I'd have taken it."

At seventh in the Ryder Cup standings - from only eight events when the qualifying started last September - Mark James will not have to pick Garcia as a wild card. And the Spaniard does not need to break a commitment to the Sprint International in Denver to go back for the last qualifying event this week in Munich.

While Garcia will not abandon the European tour he will be spending a lot of time in the States in the future, where he now has his tour card. But he said he would only make a decision about his schedule for next year in November. "There are a lot of events I want to enjoy playing in first," he said. They include the NEC Invitational next week, the Ryder Cup and the AmEx World Championship at Valderrama at the end of the season.

Ironically, in the major with a reputation for rewarding those who have waited a long time to win one, Woods overcame his own hurdle. "It's a relief," he admitted, "to finally get No 2. Now I don't have to answer all the questions about breaking down the door.

"This was completely different from Augusta when I led by nine. I would have killed myself if I had lost that one. It was fun playing under all that pressure and, although I had a five-stroke lead, I knew that a couple of mistakes and that could go in a couple of holes, which is what happened.

"Whether this win puts me on track with Jack Nicklaus, I don't know. He won the grand slam by the time he was 26 and hopefully I can do the same. I didn't play as well as I wanted to in '98 but now I am reaping the benefit of all the hours on the range with Butch [Harmon]. Everything is coming together."

How much Woods's image has been harmed by the Ryder Cup payment controversy remains to be seen. The crowd's reaction suggests it has, but at least he has started talking about it as a competitive match. "It's going to be a tough week," he said. "We have a wonderful team assembled and we'll be going to Brookline to play a tough European squad. They have a wonderful mix of veteran players as well as people who are going to be around for future Ryder Cups. At last, I get to play in the States. I've played an Eisenhower Trophy in Paris, a Walker Cup in Wales, a Ryder Cup in Spain and a President's Cup in Australia. Finally, home soil."

Of course, were the Ryder Cup an exhibition the TV people would be screaming out for Woods and Garcia in the singles. Fortunately, it is not and we will have to wait for the luck of the draw.

EIGHT STEPS TO BROOKLINEHow Sergio Garcia qualified for the Ryder Cup in just eight tournamentsAPRIL

Date Tournament Pos Winnings22-25 Spanish Open 25 £5,670

MAY21-24 Deutsche Bank 20 £14,04028-31 Volvo PGA 19 £14,838

JULY1-4 Irish Open 1 £166,6577-10 Loch Lomond 2 £74,56615-18 Open mc £70030-2 European Open 49 £6,107

AUGUST12-15 USPGA 2 £233,795

Total £482,379

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