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Woods-Garcia could be a rivalry for the ages

The only thing that could top the drama of the final round in the PGA Championship would be for Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia to meet at The Country Club with the Ryder Cup on the line.

That's out of Ben Crenshaw's control since the draw is blind for the Sunday singles matches, but the U.S. captain couldn't stop talking about them.

"That's the future of golf," Crenshaw said Monday. ``And I think as far as drama, it's in pretty safe hands."

The final major championship of the 20th century may have been a sneak preview to the first part of the next 100 years. All that separated Woods and Garcia at Medinah Country Club was four years and one stroke.

Woods, 23, became the youngest player since Seve Ballesteros in 1980 to win two majors. Two par putts -- the one Garcia missed on the 16th and the one Woods made on the 17th -- kept the 19-year-old Spaniard from becoming the youngest major winner in 131 years.

If the dream pairing in the Ryder Cup doesn't pan out, then the Masters can't get here soon enough.

Rivalries are born in the majors, and this one came out kicking and screaming. Woods nearly squandered a five-stroke lead with seven holes to play, but won the PGA Championship by a stroke with a routine two-putt for par on the last hole.

It left him so mentally spent it was all Woods could do to raise the Wanamaker Trophy.

"To come out of it on top took everything out of me," he said.

Woods has been part of every rivalry equation since becoming the youngest Masters champion in 1997. Garcia is a natural match, given his confidence and charisma.

"Sergio and I play very similar games," Woods said. ``We are both very aggressive, both hit the ball a long ways and both like to be creative. I know what he's thinking out there."

Garcia has a selection of shots matched only by his mentor, Ballesteros.

"He's Seve with a smile," Tom Lehman said.

And like Ballesteros, Garcia defined his swashbuckling style with a single shot on the grandest stage in golf.

Ballesteros was also a 19-year-old in only his second major as a professional when he finished second behind Johnny Miller in the 1976 Open. But he became the buzz of Royal Birkdale by threading a chip shot through two bunkers on the 18th to save par.

The shot that defines the kid -- "El Nino" -- was even more spectacular.

"No one has ever seen a shot like that," Crenshaw said.

Trailing Woods by one stroke on the 16th hole, Garcia's tee shot landed between two roots next to one of the 4,161 trees on Medinah. He had to get the ball off the ground, around the trees and onto the front of an elevated green 176 yards away -- all this without killing himself, or at least having the ball hit him for a two-stroke penalty.

"I just closed my eyes, hit the ball and went backwards just in case the ball hit the tree and comes into me," Garcia said. "And well, then I opened my eyes and I saw the ball going to the green. And I was pretty excited there."

So was everyone watching.

"When he hit that shot on 16, he captured America's imagination and heart," Crenshaw said. "He's magic, he's charismatic, he's graceful. What a kid. What a fabulous kid."

He is everything Woods once was -- and now must become what Woods is for a true rivalry to take golf into the next millennium.

While Garcia won the hearts of Chicago, Woods won the prize that mattered most. Woods is still 16 majors behind Jack Nicklaus, but he is also two ahead of Garcia.

"I said when I turned pro that I wanted to be the No. 1 golfer in the world," Garcia said. "And so I knew I was going to be a rival for Tiger.''

Clearly, this was no "Showdown at Sherwood."

As badly as everyone wanted to make a rivalry out of Woods and David Duval, they never staged anything close to what took place at Medinah. Garcia looking up at Woods from the 13th green and then staring him down was as good as it gets.

"No doubt, we saw something in Sergio that is absolutely electrifying and captivating," Crenshaw said.

Not to be lost is the utter dominance by Woods this summer, the result of two years fine-tuning a swing with coach Butch Harmon that should last for at least the next 20 years.

His victory in the PGA Championship was his fourth in his last seven tournaments since his post-Masters break. He finished no worse than a tie for seventh in the others, and that includes two majors.

"We've sat on the range for countless hours hitting balls, by ourselves, no one around, and putting in time that people don't see," Woods said. "It took a little while before everything came together. And once it did, I'm starting to reap the benefits."

That might have been easier to recognize had he won the PGA Championship without such a fight put up by someone so young and so similar.

As it was, the PGA Championship was very much like the Open in one respect -- it may be remembered as much for the guy who finished second.

AP