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Sergio Garcia looking for US win number 2

For three years, with few people noticing, Sergio Garcia has prospered in the mammoth shadow cast by Tiger Woods' assault on the record book.

Even though he didn't win a tournament in the United States, Garcia's star did not dim. He never lost his confidence.

''People would say to me, 'What's going on? You're not playing well,''' Garcia said today after a practice round for this week's Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village Golf Club. ''I was like, 'I'm not playing that bad. I just haven't won.'''

That all changed two weeks ago when Garcia, five shots down to Phil Mickelson heading into the final round, shot a 7-under-par 63 to win the Colonial by two strokes.

Garcia said the long-awaited victory erases the ugly thoughts that can torment a player who hasn't won.

''You might put some extra pressure on yourself,'' he said.

Garcia said it was only normal to stand over a critical putt and say to yourself, ''I have to win; I haven't won.''

It's not as though Garcia has been lost. He still is 10th in the world golf rankings. In just nine PGA events this year, he is 17th on the money list with more than $1.1 million in earnings.

No one has really stared down Woods and made him blink over the past two years. In the 1999 PGA, Garcia made a run at him, only to fall short by a shot. Garcia beat Woods last August in a made-for-TV two-man showdown.

All fuel for those who thought Garcia would be the one.

But Woods has won five of the last six major championships while Garcia was learning from his mistakes and thinking about the future.

''They said Sergio Garcia would challenge him, but I don't think he's going to go past Tiger Woods,'' European tour player Thomas Bjorn said. ''I don't think Sergio is as good as Tiger. I don't think anybody thinks Sergio is as good as Tiger.''

That's OK with the 21-year-old Spaniard. He's satisfied just to measure himself against the game's icon, who has won the last two Memorials and is back to try for a third.

''It's more fun than playing in a tournament that he's not playing,'' Garcia said. ''It makes you take everything out of yourself to beat him. You have to play as well as you can.''

Jack Nicklaus is among those who believes Garcia's recent success will be repeated.

''Winning breeds winning,'' Nicklaus said. ''Anytime you can win a golf tournament, it gives you confidence. The first win is always the toughest. The second one becomes a lot easier.''

Garcia agrees. His confidence never lagged, but now he has cleared a hurdle.

''Now that I've done it, I want to just keep trying to play well,'' he said. ''Hopefully I'll be in that position a lot more times. I'm sure I'll lose some, but I'll win some too.''

Even though he has a hefty bank account and a face recognized around the world, Garcia remains a young man who enjoys having fun on and off the course.

A bachelor, he said he notices many young women who follow him at tournaments and crowd around him for autographs.

''I still see some girls,'' he said with a grin. ''I have no complaints about that.''

One of the most memorable images in recent years is of his shot from the base of a tree in the final round of the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah.

After hitting a 6-iron from 176 yards - with his eyes closed - he leaped in the air and ran down the fairway to see where the shot rolled. It ended up on the green.

''That's probably been the biggest reaction I had in my life from the public and fans,'' he said. ''It was something that just came naturally. Everybody liked it. But it was one of those things you don't even think about. I don't know, you just do it and all of a sudden it becomes so popular.''


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