King Rut

Despite hispromise, Sergio García's major quest has been stuck in neutral

He had me at kick.When in the final round of the PGA Championship at Medinah in 1999, 19-year-oldSergio García made a miraculous escape shot off a tree trunk, then ran to thefairway and gave a balletlike leap culminating in a scissors kick as he peeredto see where the ball landed, he created a legion of aficionados, myself amongthem. No matter that the Spaniard's gallant charge left him a shot back ofeventual winner Tiger Woods. What I and many others saw was the long-awaitedchallenger who could go mano a mano with Tiger in the majors: a player with thegame, the cojones and, perhaps as important, the magnetism that the Spanishcall duende. Surely and shortly, his first major title would follow.

Since then, 30majors have been played, and Tiger has won 10. Phil Mickelson has won three,Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh two each. Heck, even David Duval won one. But ElNi√±o? Nada. García, now a grizzled 27, may or may not be the current BestPlayer Never to Have Won a Major. But let me suggest, to my chagrin, that nowthat Lefty has broken through and then some, Sergio is indisputably the mostteasing, tantalizing and tormenting.

Of course, Garcíais hardly without accomplishment. He has six PGA Tour victories, another 10worldwide and (aided greatly by that duende) gazillions in the bank. Moreover,in the biennial, pressurized Ryder Cup competition, El Ni√±o is El¬†Hombre.This has made his inability to break through in the majors all the moreperplexing. The fellow who's nervelessly draining those improbable bombs at theK Club is the very same guy who can't drop one in the ocean at Augusta.

García's recentperformance in majors underscores this frustrating inconsistency. At lastyear's U.S.¬†Open he missed the cut. At the British he was with Tiger inthe final twosome; if ever there was a day to step up, this was it. Instead,García shot a one-over 73 to the victorious Woods's five-under 67 and tied forfifth. At the PGA he finished in a more-than-respectable tie for third, but sixstrokes in arrears of champion Tiger. At this year's Masters andU.S.¬†Open, he fell back, with two more desultory MCs. If we count thePlayers as a quasimajor, well, score one for Sergio: a sizzling 67-66 on theweekend vaulted him to a strong second. Thus the maddening reality: We're neversure which Sergio will show up.

A primo ballstriker, Sergio's Achilles' heel is his play on and around the greens. His ownfrustration with his putting was betrayed in an ugly incident at Doral in Marchwhen he spit into the cup after he missed a short one on 13. A sequence in thefirst round of last month's Stanford St. Jude Championship was equallyillustrative. On 17 (his eighth hole of the day), Sergio lipped out a tiddler,resulting in a double bogey. To say the least, his body language did not exudeduende. However, 10 minutes later, Sergio did appear highly jaunty--in one ofhis ubiquitous beer commercials.

In mydisappointment, perhaps I am penalizing Sergio for having entered the scene soearly. But one way in which the immortals tend to identify themselves is bybagging their first major by 30. Tiger got his at 21. Jack Nicklaus was 22,Gary Player 23, Tom Watson 25, Arnold Palmer and Lee Trevino 28.

So it is time,amigo. At Carnoustie you should be able to get to the green in grand style.Once you're there, pretend it's the Ryder Cup. I am waiting to see you hoistthe claret jug. If that happens, I promise I will kick up my heels.


As the playoffsapproach, the pros are definitely paying attention to the FedEx Cup pointsrace.

Since Valhalla, García has 15 worldwide wins but is 0 for 30 inmajors.