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Ryder Cup boost for Spanish duo

Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez enhanced their Ryder Cup prospects while giving Spanish fans a double celebration at the weekend with victories on opposite sides of the world.

Garcia won his first tournament on the PGA Tour in more than two years at the Byron Nelson Championship in Texas and Jimenez clinched his third European Tour title of the season at the Asian Open in Shanghai, China.

The two Spaniards are in prime form and have virtually secured their places in Europe's 12-man Ryder Cup team to take on the United States at Oakland Hills Country Club in Detroit, Michigan from September 17 to 19.

Garcia, who struggled for much of last year after making swing changes at the end of 2002, won the Byron Nelson in a playoff on Sunday when he holed a short par putt at the first extra hole.

Although he says he needs a bit more confidence with his putting, Garcia believes his overall game is in the best shape of his career.

"I know what I have to do around the course, and that definitely comes from having confidence in yourself and in your swing," the 24-year-old told reporters after edging out Americans Robert Damron and Dudley Hart for the title.

"I feel like I'm striking a lot of good putts, it's just a matter of believing in myself better. I definitely didn't make a lot of putts this week, but I felt my game was good enough to get something going, and I had some chances.

"Overall, I'm very happy with my game. I've still got to work on a couple things, but it was a great tournament and a good field.

"It feels good to be on top," added the Spaniard, who has climbed to third in the European Ryder Cup world points standings.

Garcia, who remodelled his swing under the watchful eye of his coach and father Victor in a bid to reduce lag, added he was now ready for next month's U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, the second of the year's four majors.

"Hitting the ball nicely like I am helps, even more in a U.S. Open," he said. "You know how crucial it is driving it well there. That's one of the reasons why I love the majors so much, because it's not so much of a putting shoot-out.

"If you're striking the ball very nicely, you can still be up there in contention, and it makes me relax a little bit more. Probably I putt a little bit better in the majors because of that."

Jimenez, whose only previous Ryder Cup appearance came at Brookline in 1999, swept to a three-shot victory in the Asian Open on Sunday.

The 40-year-old overhauled overnight leader Simon Dyson of Britain with a five-under-par 67 to claim his fourth European Tour title since last October.

"I am really pleased because right now, every time I step on to the golf course, I feel good," the Spaniard told reporters at the Tomson Shanghai Pudong Golf Club.

"If I play like this, I feel I can do anything. In fact, from about August last year, my form has been really pleasing," added Jimenez, who has climbed to second in the European money list and the Ryder Cup world points standings.

The leading five players in the world points list on August 23 will automatically qualify for the 2004 European Ryder Cup team.

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