Golf

Sergio Garcia is no amigo to U.S. Cup drive

LOUISVILLE — Sergio Garcia is 0-for-38 in major golf championships.

In the Ryder Cup, however, he is oh so annoying.

"Why?" inquired Garcia, asked if he believed he got under American skin. "Because I play well?"

Well, yes. Very well. Few ultra-talented golfers have come up so empty on the Grand Slam stage. Possibly no one has come up so big when the stage shifts to the Ryder Cup, as it does Friday at Valhalla Golf Cub.

In four Ryder Cup appearances, the 28-year-old Spaniard is an astounding 14-4-2. Garcia is 8-for-8 in foursomes competition. He's a combined 6-1 in matches involving Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. He won 8½ points out of a possible 10 in the past two Cups.

In 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, Garcia was on the cusp of being the first player in Cup history to go 5-0. Then the U.S. team threatened to lock Stewart Cink out of his room if he didn't snap Sergio's neck, er, streak.

"No one had to tell me that," Cink, who won the match 4 and 3, said Tuesday. "He played well when I beat him. I just happened to play very well that day."

So what gives? How can a golfer fail to come through under tournament pressure, yet nail so many big shots under match-play pressure?

"I think he's a great partner," Paul Azinger, the U.S. captain, said Wednesday. "There's something inside him that fits this format."

"I've always said it, and I say it from the bottom of my heart," Garcia said. "I would rather go 0-5 and win the Ryder Cup as a team than go 5-0 and lose it."

"I look at Sergio," Nick Faldo said, "and I see Seve."

Seve Ballesteros, fellow Spaniard, helped the Euros to five Cup wins as a player and captain. He earned 20 points out of 37 Ryder Cup matches. He combined with countryman Jose Maria Olazabal for 11 wins in 15 matches.

Ballesteros played the Cup with passion and skill. Garcia plays the Cup with passion and skill.

In 2006, Garcia made six birdies to help teammate Olazabal rout David Toms and Brian Wetterich. He teamed with Luke Donald to crush Woods and Jim Furyk in a match the latter never led.

When the Cup was completed, Garcia blurted out, "There's nothing sweeter than beating the Americans."

"In the Ryder Cup, that is the goal, so there's nothing better than doing that," said Garcia, who at 19 was the youngest Ryder Cup player in history. "I've always said one of the things I love about the Ryder Cup is how everybody comes together, how much better you get to know some of your teammates. Everybody kind of loosens up and opens up."

No looser than Sergio. In 2002, he sprinted the 18th fairway to mob teammate Pierre Fulke, causing the Swede to call his match a draw. After the Euros won, Garcia said the Cup win was his greatest moment, "other than the birth of my child and my wedding." Moments earlier, Euro captain Sam Torrance had said the same exact thing.

Garcia is neither married, nor a father. He has, most believe, grown up a little.

"Well, as we've seen, Sergio has really changed this year," Faldo said on Tuesday. "I mean, he's matured at the speed of light. I thought for me the moment came this year when he three-putted the 17th hole, day three of the Players (Championship) from like 10 feet. You can imagine the old Sergio, either he wouldn't have made it to the 18th tee in one piece, or his clubs.

"I think he's recognized the more patient he stays, the better his performance is. And we've seen it."

Heaven help the Americans if Garcia's Cup performance grows even better.

"I don't know," said Sergio, shrugging his shoulders. "I guess I've just been lucky."

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