Work In Progress
Don't be fooled by Sergio Garcia's technical flaws and emotional immaturity: He's still the player with the most potential of challenging Tiger Woods
Since Spaniards didn't celebrate Father's Day last Sunday, there was no irony as Victor Garcia wordlessly consoled his son that evening in the Bethpage locker room. Away from the cacophony that had followed the 22-year-old for three days, Sergio Garcia allowed himself to be soothed by silence.
There wasn't much to say. After practically calling out Tiger Woods for a final-round showdown in a major championship, El Niño had just received a close-range tutorial from the coldest and most clinical closer in the history of the game. Whether he was ready to admit it or not, a humbled Garcia had learned precisely how far he has to go.
While Woods demonstrated the kind of mental strength it takes to rebound from two opening three-putts with what he called his all-time best tee-to-green performance on the Sunday of a major win, Garcia, with a spotty 74, showed he is still a work in progress.
The same can be said of his iron play. Although Garcia in full flight can work the ball as well as anyone in the world, he still suffers from the untimely loose shot, like the pull-hooked 4-iron from the middle of the 12th fairway Sunday that stopped next to the port-o-lets and ended any chance he still had of catching Woods. In contrast to the world No. 1's meticulously wrought and now wrinkle-free swing, Garcia's action still needs some tightening.
Mentally, Garcia remains a mixed bag. At Bethpage, his improving self-restraint was marred by a tempestuous Friday, when an acute case of Tigeritis temporarily separated him from reality.
And, of course, there was Garcia's interminable and worrisome pre-shot waggle. While Woods waited stoically as his fellow competitor stood over shots and regripped for as much as a full minute, Garcia seemed burdened with a performance-impairing handicap, like a debater with a speech stammer or an air-traffic controller with narcolepsy. It's simply got to go.
But if those assessments seem unduly harsh, it's only because Garcia's obvious gifts promise so much. In the long view, Garcia's fourth-place finish, six strokes behind Woods' winning total of 277, in only his third U.S. Open, is undeniably positive. His one-day seminar at the Woods Institute of Getting It Done might have been painful, but from such experiences come growth. Garcia recovered nicely from his Friday freak-out to win over a very tough and vocal New York crowd with poise and professionalism. And as the statistically best driver in the game and with more shots from 100 yards and in than anyone, he showed major championship chops that guarantee to make him a more consistent threat in the biggest events than any other Woods challenger. While Phil Mickelson's solid second-place finish further entrenched him as the game's No. 2, Garcia, 10 years younger, did much at Bethpage to establish himself as the main major championship challenger of the future.
"You can see that before long Tiger's biggest worry is going to be Sergio," said a prominent American player. "He's got the best tool box, he's on the steepest learning curve and he wants it the most."
Garcia came to Long Island breathing fire. Eager to improve on his tie for 12th last year at Southern Hills, where he trailed Retief Goosen by a shot after three rounds before closing with a fitful 77, Garcia had no qualms about his ambitions.
"[Tiger's] a great player, but I don't think he intimidates me," he said. "I know what I can do and I know that if I am on top of my game, I can beat anybody. I always like tournaments that play hard, where the winning score is a high score. I can't wait to see what happens this week."