2005: Garcia takes early step toward Ryder Cup

CRANS-SUR-SIERRE, Switzerland

Sergio Garcia doesn’t have much to worry about when it comes to making the 2006 European Ryder Cup team. But Sept. 4, in the first event that earned Ryder Cup points, Garcia wasn’t taking any chances.

Garcia won the European Masters by a stroke, chipping in for birdie on the 16th hole in a 3-under-par 68 to hold off Sweden’s Peter Gustafsson. It was his second title of the year, but his first on the PGA European Tour. His other victory came in the PGA Tour’s Booz Allen Classic.

“I’m very pleased . . . to start the Ryder Cup qualifying this way,” Garcia said.

Garcia entered the day ahead by a stroke and finished at 14-under 270, but even though he

held off Gustafsson and said he was pleased with his victory, Garcia said his final round wasn’t up

to snuff.

“My game wasn’t as sharp as usual on the back nine but I hung in well and came through,” said Garcia, who shot 32 on the front Sunday and 36 on the back. But, when asked about starting out the Ryder Cup qualifying season with a victory, Garcia conceded: “I couldn’t have done any better.”

Gustafsson posted the day’s best round, a 64 that left him at 271. Paul Casey of England (66) was third at 272, followed by defending champion Luke Donald of England (69) and Garry Houston of Wales (70) at 273.

Donald conceded that it was “game over” when Garcia holed out at the 16th.

“My finish was disappointing,” Donald said. “I felt I still had a chance after birdieing the 13th, but I didn’t make a single birdie on the par 5s. That killed me.”

Garcia had a stretch of four birdies in five holes. His 22-yard chip on the 16th finished off Gustafsson. The Swede challenged by making five putts between 10 and 20 feet.

“I found my putting stroke on the practice green yesterday,” Gustafsson said. “Everything got better as the week went on.”

Casey is gradually pulling out of a prolonged slump in which he missed seven cuts starting with the Masters in April.

“I can’t be too frustrated,” he said. “I feel I am getting back to where I want to be.”

Garcia dedicated the title to close friend and amateur golfer Maria Garcia-Estrada, who died Sept. 3 from lung cancer.

“She was a lovely person, very caring,” he said. “I guess Maria was watching me from the sky. She has been fighting cancer for about eight months and unfortunately she couldn’t handle it any more. She was a lovely caring person and it’s such a shame that she’s gone.”

– Staff and wire reports

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