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Garcia's duel a taste of things to come

Sergio Garcia's thrilling duel with Tiger Woods over the final holes of the U.S. PGA championship promises a taste of things to come in the next millennium.

The effervescent 19-year-old Spaniard performed with skill and bravery to secure second place at Medinah, just a shot behind Woods, in only his second major tournament as a professional.

With it he secured a place in the European Ryder Cup team to fulfil one of his greatest ambitions while still in his teens.

Few doubt that he has all the necessary talents to become one of the great players in the modern game.

"Sergio and Tiger will meet again like this on many occasions in Grand Slam tournaments," predicted Spanish sports daily Marca after Garcia had come so close to upsetting Woods. "You're one of the greats, little one."

El Mundo said: "It took a genius to stop another genius," while Sport led simply with "Super Sergio".

Garcia's achievement in pushing Woods all the way to the tape on Sunday was all the more remarkable after his horrific experience in his previous major.

El nino ("Little one") had been beaten so thoroughly by the Carnoustie course that hosted this year's British Open it was difficult to see how the young man from Castellon could recover.

His bottom place finish in Scotland, after he had been tipped as a potential champion, could have broken him but his extraordinary mental strength enabled him to forget his Carnoustie nightmare and concentrate on showing the world what a talent he possesses.

"Five minutes after finishing the second round at Carnoustie it was over as far as I was concerned," Garcia said. "It's as if I never played there. I don't even remember it."

Garcia recovered well enough to take the lead at the PGA with his first round 66.

He slipped back with a 73 in the second round, seeming to lose some of his spark about the greens, but a 68 in the third put him right back in contention, two shots behind leader Woods.

In the final round his chance seemed to have gone as he fell five shots behind with seven to play, a seemingly insurmountable hurdle.

But a three-shot turnaround on the 13th, where Garcia made a birdie and Woods double-bogeyed, was followed by a moment of magic from the Spaniard that marked him out not so much as the new Seve Ballesteros but the first Sergio Garcia.

On the 16th, with his ball lodged between roots at the base of a tree, Garcia somehow contrived to ram it out, racing joyfully behind it to see it stop, incredibly, on the green.

If Woods was surprised at the way his young opponent came back to harry him over the closing holes -- to the delight of an American crowd that chanted "El nino! El nino!" as he walked up the fairway at the 18th -- the only surprise to those that have followed Garcia's career was that he didn't go on and win it.

For Garcia is a natural winner, taking his first European Tour title, the Irish Open, three months into his professional career.

As an amateur he won just about everything -- more than 50 tournaments in all. At 15, he was European amateur champion and he became only the second player in history to hold the British boys and British amateur titles at the same time.

The other man to achieve that feat was Jose Maria Olazabal, who this year took his second U.S. Masters title.

It may not be long before Garcia matches that achievement.

Reuters