Garcia staying calm, despite solid Open start
BETHESDA, Md. – For a guy who a month ago sounded as if he had zero interest in the U.S. Open, Sergio Garcia is in a favorable position through the first round at Congressional Country Club.
Then again, hardened by years of fast major championships starts gone sour, Garcia hardly seemed as excited as some of the reporters who peppered him as a steady rain fell.
It was a 2-under 69, Garcia’s first sub-70 opening effort in a U.S. Open since 2005. Surely he felt good about it.
“I hit it well, but not great,” the Spaniard said.
There were three birdies in 11 holes, a very solid start.
“Overall, it was good, but not great.”
He’s in the mix, just four off the lead, tied for fourth.
“There’s still a long way to go. We haven’t done anything yet.”
By now, the point had been made – there would be no rain on Garcia’s parade, because he wasn’t about to march home happily. Not on the pain of a sloppy three-putt bogey at the 18th hole that left a sour taste in his mouth. Sadly, the day had been a microcosm of Garcia’s volatile career – so close to brilliant, if only it had finished better.
“It was nice to start like that (3 under through 11),” he said. “Obviously it is disappointing to finish it the way I did after the birdie at 17.”
The birdie at the devilish 17th green had wiped out a bogey at 14, so Garcia, after striping it center cut at the 18th, was back to 3 under. Faced with as favorable an approach as you can have into 18, the Spaniard changed clubs, found the green but was woefully short, left his lag 5 feet short, then missed the par attempt.
The difference between 68 and 69 is so small, but not when the stakes are so large. Garcia knows that perhaps better than anyone on the world golf stage, because few competitors have been scarred by the major championships quite like the precocious Spaniard. In possession of brilliant talent, Garcia’s career is defined by flawed performances in the biggest tournaments – a playoff loss to Padraig Harrington at the 2007 Open Championship, a bitter loss to Harrington at the 2008 PGA, and a series of good efforts that fell short against the incomparable Tiger Woods, the PGA in 1999, the U.S. Open in 2002, the British Open in 2006.
Playing in a 48th consecutive major championship, Garcia is still in search of his first win. In other words, he knows how difficult this task is and isn’t about to fire his engines over a round that leaves him four back. Especially when it ends with his oldest nemesis – the three-putt – gnawing at him.
“I feel like I did a lot of good things,” Garcia said. “But like I said, it’s just Thursday. We just started.”
True, but there was a time a few weeks ago when it didn’t appear as if Garcia would even get to the starting line of this championship. Not exempt into a major for the first time since the 1999 U.S. Open, Garcia rode an emotional roller-coaster earlier in the spring.
When he shot a third-round 73 at The Players Championship, he said he wouldn’t try and qualify for the U.S. Open if he weren’t exempt. Apparently, a final-round 65, followed by decent efforts in Texas – T-16 at Colonial, T-20 at the Nelson – convinced Garcia to change his mind.
Sure enough, he shot 68-67 and survived a playoff to make it through a sectional qualifier in Memphis, so here he is, once again a major player. It’s his best start in a U.S. Open since he was second through 18 holes in 2002 at Bethpage, but while that’s noteworthy, you’ll understand why Garcia can’t get overly excited by it.