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Garcia's US win big lift for Europe

Sam Torrance, the Ryder Cup captain, yesterday described Sergio Garcia's winning of the Colonial tournament in Fort Worth on Sunday as "one hell of a response and a wonderfully immediate one" to Tiger Woods' triumph in the Deutsche Bank SAP Open at St Leon Rot.

"I'm delighted for him and delighted at the effect his win must have on our Ryder Cup cause. It's a huge boost to morale at this stage in the season," said the Scot.

Torrance, who put money on the player to win, had watched the denouement on television and been hugely taken with Garcia's second to the last green. It was made for him, a shot of 180 yards which had to be belted out of rough and round a tree.

Although only one ahead at that juncture, Garcia went boldly for the green, finishing no more than 20 feet from the flag. His closing par saw him winning his first tournament in the United States with a tally of 267, 13 under par as against the 11-under totals of Phil Mickelson and Brian Gay.

Torrance's enjoyment of Garcia's performance was enhanced by a conversation he had had with him last Friday. Though some had suggested that the Spaniard was not over-concerned with whether or not he played in the Ryder Cup, Torrance very quickly established that he is thinking about little else.

"He's desperate to play," said Torrance. "He told me that he would be over for Loch Lomond and for the Open and that he would be happily prepared to compete in a couple of extra events if he was struggling to finish in the top 10 on the points list." At the moment he is lying in 12th place.

Not too many golfers can have created problems for their fellow professionals in two tournaments at the one time but that is precisely what Garcia did last week. While he was paving the way for his win in Texas, the Tournament Players' committee doing duty at St Leon Rot were deciding to fine him £5,000 for his behaviour during the Alfred Dunhill tournament in South Africa at the start of the year. Having been given a two-stroke penalty for taking a wrong drop, he argued with the referee, John Paramor, and said that he was being asked to play to the John Paramor rules rather than those of the Royal & Ancient.

Since not too many have forgotten that incident at Wentworth in which he kicked his shoe down the fairway, and the flying footwear missed another referee by the proverbial whisker, it was hardly surprising that the committee felt compelled to make the fine relatively substantial.

Torrance, who is on that committee, puts Garcia's more outrageous outbursts down to youthful exuberance. "He's a very likeable young man. He's very excitable and very 'into it' which, in a golfing context, is just what you want."

Like many others, Torrance also recognises that Garcia is becoming more mature by the minute. It showed in his play at the Colonial Country Club. Like the legendary Ben Hogan, who will forever be associated with the course, Garcia made telling use of his shot-making skills. Where the rest went with their drivers and often paid the price, the Spaniard was prepared to bisect the fairways with irons.

Garcia, who first made his mark in America when he pushed Woods all the way in the 1999 US PGA Championship, broke a host of tournament records with his closing 63. His outward 29 was the lowest such front nine-hole total in two decades, while he was by four years the youngest winner of the championship.

Maybe the most interesting aspect of his performance lay in the effect he had on Mickelson. The left-hander faltered in much the same way as he did when Woods was hounding him at the Masters. Although four ahead after eight holes of Sunday's final round, Mickelson missed three putts from inside five feet to squander his chances.

Speaking in the wake of his win, Garcia said that he knew a win was not far away. "I've been playing well over the last year and a half without getting the good breaks," he explained. "This time I got a few and everyone saw how well I can play."

One way and another, Garcia has crammed a lot into his 21 years. He made the cut in 12 of the 18 European Tour events he played and won the 1997 Catalonian Open before turning professional in April 1999 at the age of 19. He won the Murphy's Irish Open on what was only his sixth start as a professional and went on to bag the Linde German Masters that year.

Unlike Woods, he has also had his share of disasters, with none springing to mind more readily than his opening 89 in the first round of the 1999 Open at Carnoustie - the worst score on that wind-tossed day.


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