IRONICAL JUSTICE FOR GARCIA

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Sergio Garcia finally exorcised one of the most painful golfing demons of his career on a strangely subdued day at Carnoustie.

Sergio Garcia finally exorcised one of the most painful golfing demons of his career on a strangely subdued day at Carnoustie.
The Spaniard, who shot a brilliant 65 in the first round of The Open, followed it up with a level-par 71.
An unremarkable score on paper, even if it does keep him nicely on course for that elusive first major, but the third of those 71 shots was anything but unremarkable, especially when you remember how Garcia has lived with the embarrassment of his first-round 89 on his professional debut at Carnoustie back in 1999.
That day, as a precocious teenager, Garcia pushed a seven iron into the punishing right rough at the par-four first hole. He took three hacks to free the ball and racked up a seven.
Imagine the mood of the 2007 Garcia when he “shanked” – his own description – a nine iron into the same spot, scattering spectators as the incoming missile arrived with an accompanying shout of ‘fore.’
The ball was all but invisible, 35 yards from the flag. Garcia’s Open in the balance.
But this time the 27-year-old Garcia drew his pitching wedge with the maturity of the golfing matador he has become and produced a shot of pure genius.
One which rose from the clinging rough, floated over the greenside bunker, only to flop gently on the downslope and release serenely before nestling less than a foot from the hole.
He tapped in for a par which must have felt like an eagle. At which point the strains of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher, commentating for radio, filtered across the fairway. “It’s going to be a Seve-type of round then,” he said.
And in his willingness to fight for every single shot there is no doubt it was reminiscent of Ballesteros of old, even if Garcia shrugged off the idea that the ‘miracle’ shot was one of the finest of his career.
Garcia said: “I had quite a bad lie so I was thinking ‘try and hit it 10, 12 feet right of the hole’.
“But the club just got tangled a little bit in the high grass and when I saw the way the ball came out I thought this could be really good.
“It was a great save to start with. A really nice shot because it kept me in the right mood.”
Just as well because it was a morning simmering with frustration and laced with tedium.
For instance, Garcia spent almost 11 minutes waiting to tee off at the second – Phil Mickelson and a committee of debating rules officials up front having the same effect on Carnoustie as a caravan on a country lane in the middle of August.
At one point six players and six caddies, plus all the attendant officials, crowded on to that second tee.
But Garcia kept his focus, admitting the delay actually came to his assistance following the trouble at the first.
“It helped me settle down a bit and get back in good form,” he said.
A bogey at the fourth when he was a little too pacey with a long birdie putt was followed by a birdie at the par-five sixth when he splashed out of a bunker to two feet.
Yes, that sounds like Seve. As did the drive which bounced off a spectator’s leg at the ninth and saved him from the trees.
The back nine saw another bogey at 11 and a birdie at 14 and the sight of Garcia sprinting from the 17th tee across the 18th fairway and vaulting the wire fence to visit the nearest portaloo.
That relief was matched at the last when he rolled in a six-foot putt for par, just after Tiger Woods on the adjacent first tee had seen his opening shot plop into the Barrie Burn.
The symbolic handing, perhaps, of major power from America to Europe? We will know on Sunday.
If it does not happen it will not be for lack of Spanish toil.
“I’m trying, I can tell you that,” Garcia said. “I’m trying to win as many majors as I can.”
At least he goes into the weekend with a bag containing one less demon.
Frank Malley, PA Chief Sports Writer

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