Wednesday 17 January 2018

Garcia still shows Open wounds from Irish heartaches

Garcia would have won in 72 holes if his par putt on the last hole didn’t defy gravity and stay out. Photo: Getty Images
Garcia would have won in 72 holes if his par putt on the last hole didn’t defy gravity and stay out. Photo: Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Masters champion Sergio Garcia yesterday revealed that he has never quite erased the memories of the hurt inflicted by his Open championship defeats to Pádraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy in 2007 and 2014.

The 37-year-old still rues a couple of key moments at Carnoustie 10 years ago when he lost in the playoff to Harrington, and three years ago at Hoylake where he shot 66 in the final round but ended up losing by two shots to the Holywood star.

His Major breakthrough at Augusta last April generated an outpouring of heartfelt congratulations for the Spaniard, who had suffered his fair share of Major championship heartbreak, but listening to Garcia's trip down memory lane at Royal Birkdale yesterday was a reminded of the fickle nature of sport, particularly golf at the highest level.

The Open Championship was the one he grew up dreaming of winning mainly because it was live on television and, unlike the American Majors, it was finished long before his parents' decrees on bedtime.

Destination

He had played in 10 Opens before 2007, when the destination of the Claret Jug came down to a duel between the Spaniard and Harrington at Carnoustie.

Garcia would have won in 72 holes if his par putt on the last hole didn't defy gravity and stay out, opening the door of Harrington's own Major breakthrough.

Seven years later he had a chance to get his hands on the big prize at Hoylake, but faltered on the last few holes, and McIlroy joined the list of champions.

So, if Garcia could take a 'mulligan' on the back nine on Sunday at Carnoustie and Hoylake against his Irish opponents, what would they be?

"I've gone through them in my head, and I think in '14, when Rory won, I probably would like to hit the tee shot again on the par-three (15th).

"I did finish birdie, par, birdie after that, but obviously I'd like to keep that finish there too," he said.

From his perspective, the 15th at Hoylake, a par-three that was rated as one of the easiest on the course, should have coughed up a birdie chance or at least a par, but Garcia hit his tee shot into a bunker, and took two to get out of the sand trap.

And Carnoustie?

"I could take a mulligan on the putt (at 72nd). Maybe I could take a mulligan on the tee shot, try to hit more club and leave myself a shorter club in. And if we hit it in the bunker, we hit in the bunker.

"But I did what I thought was best both moments, and unfortunately they didn't work out," he said.

Ultimately it took 73 Majors for the big moment to arrive when Garcia eclipsed Olympic champion Justin Rose in a thrilling finish at Augusta.

At fifth in the world, and second in the Race To Dubai rankings, Garcia has every reason to feel optimistic about his chances at Birkdale.

"Like I said before, winning the Masters was amazing and it does give you a little bit of extra confidence and I've been having a very solid year, so all of those things are great.

"When we get there on Thursday morning on the first tee, the nerves will be there and that's not going to change because that's what drives us," he said.

"So we'll see how we're able to handle all of those."

Will he finally lay the Irish hoodoo this week? At least, Garcia seems to have buried the hatchet with Harrington after clearing the air at McIlroy's recent wedding.

They were hardly pals before 2007, but they have both spoken recently about a level of mutual respect between them.

"With all due respect, if I tried to be like Harrington it's probably not going to work for me, because our personalities are totally different.

"But I've always said, the patience that he has obviously helps. He's a hard worker. We all are, but he's probably even more.

"I saw last week he was coming back from injury and he had a good week, so obviously he must be excited about it. And it's a course where he won in 2008. So we'll see what we're both able to do throughout the week," said Garcia.

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