Will the Spaniard nicknamed ‘El Nino’ finally win a major Championship?
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The cheers grew louder as Sergio Garcia crossed the bridge over Barry Burn toward the 18th green at Carnoustie, a reception so warm it gave him chills. He removed his cap in a steady rain and soaked up the adulation. It was a scene fit for a coronation at the British Open.
For Garcia, the odds have never been better. He has never played better or felt so confident.
Garcia played close to perfection Saturday, a 3-under 68 that gave him a three-shot lead over Steve Stricker, with no one else closer than six shots. And while this will be the third time he has played in the final group at a major, there are two drastic differences.
Garcia finished off his bogey-free round with a 5-iron that never left the flag and sent him chasing after it, screaming out instructions with an intensity that showed he already knew the outcome.
“Oh, be good,” he said. “BE GOOD!”
It hopped onto the green and stopped 12 feet left the flag, and the only disappointment was having to settle for par.
Sergio’s play was near flawless yesterday. He only has one player within five shots of him. I think Sergio will pull off his first major today.
Stricker might have to match his record round to give Garcia a fight. He ran off three straight birdies at the start Saturday, and was equally impressive with four par saves at the end for a 64, the best score ever at Carnoustie during a British Open.
The 27-year-old Spaniard has held a 54-hole lead nine times in his career, and he has only converted five of them. Two years ago at the Wachovia Championship, he squandered a six-shot lead in the final round and lost in a playoff.
Sergio has had a history of near misses in major Championships. The 99 PGA Championship where he finished second to Tiger Woods after making a recovery shot from behind a tree was Sergio’s best chance to win a major previously.
Sergio also had his chances at the 2001, 2002 and 2005 US Opens. He finished in the top five at both last year’s British Open and PGA Championship.
Els, a three-time major champion, overcame a triple-bogey 8 on the easiest hole at Carnoustie to shoot a 68, leaving him in the large group at 3-under 210 that included Chris DiMarco (66), Padraig Harrington (68) and K.J. Choi (72).
These players are all good and capable of shooting a low number. But they would have to hope Sergio either falls back or plays par golf. If Sergio is under par today, he will win.
How about Tiger?
One guy Garcia won’t have to think about is Woods.
Trying to become the first player in more than 50 years to win the British Open three straight time, Woods beaned a 63-year-old woman in the head. It left her bandaged and bleeding, and Woods queasy at the sight of blood on the links.
He wound up with a 69, leaving him eight shots behind at 1-under 212. Woods has never won a major from behind, and only once has he made up an eight-shot deficit on the final day of any tournament â€” the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand.
Tiger is out of it. Paul Lawrie came back from 10 shots behind at the 1999 British Open also played at Carnoustie. I don’t expect similar miracles today.
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