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Garcia leads the Spanish contingent at Brookline

Sergio Garcia doesn't have to step up this week and try to end American domination at the Ryder Cup. One of his countrymen helped take care of that 14 years ago.

Seve Ballesteros is gone, though, and the hopes of Europe retaining the cup may well rest with the young new admiral of the Spanish Armada.

Only a few months after he first got paid to play, Garcia is the unlikely leader of both the three-man Spanish contingent at The Country Club and possibly the European team itself.

His infectious enthusiasm, unlimited imagination and unbridled talent are just the things needed to spark a team loaded with rookies against the favoured Americans.

"Sergio is a very exciting kid who could be the best in the world," Tom Lehman said. "He leads by his play and example on the golf course."

Anyone who remembers Garcia's 6-iron that faded onto the green from between tree roots during his duel with Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship last month or his leaping run after the ball doesn't need to be reminded of the excitement he brings to the game.

And what is not to love about a 19-year-old who not only wanted to make the European team, but to play Woods in the Sunday singles.

"I'm sure I'll have to play against him," Garcia said. "It will be nice. But what I have in my mind right now is to help the European team try to win the cup."

Garcia may have a big hand in that, with European captain Mark James expected to send him out not only on Sunday but also in the alternate shot and best ball competitions that set the stage for the final day.

In practice Wednesday, Garcia was partnered with Jesper Parnevik for alternate shot play. But he could end up going out with Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal, who along with Ballesteros has been a mentor to the young Spaniard.

"We are pretty good friends," Garcia said. "I met him when I was 11 years old, I think, playing a Spanish event in his home course. He's been always trying to help me, and I'm really pleased with that."

Olazabal, who inherited the title of Spain's best golfer from Ballesteros, figures to pass it along some day to Garcia.

That day could come sooner than later, judging from Garcia's spectacular explosion into professional golf. Olazabal knows it, but it's clear he doesn't begrudge Garcia anything.

Asked Tuesday what impressed him most about Garcia, Olazabal said "everything," before describing his various talents.

"Don't say anything else. I'm getting red," Garcia said, the two laughing.

Garcia and Olazabal, a five-time Ryder Cup member, will be joined on the team by Miguel Angel Jiminez, who, like Garcia, is making his cup debut. Together, they give Spain a full fourth of the European team.

If history is any indication, that may not be good for the U.S. team, which had a 28-year winning streak snapped in 1985 when Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Manuel Pinero combined for 7-1/2 points at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England.

"Seeing all those Spanish players playing in the Ryder Cup, it's an honour to be here," Garcia said. "It's an honour to be following their footsteps. I think we have a lot of good players in Spain and maybe because it's not such a great sport in Spain."

If it becomes a great sport, it might be due to the fieriness that Ballesteros showed openly and that seems to be deep inside Olazabal and Garcia.

"That's the way we are, most of us, anyway," Olazabal said. "It's very difficult to see a Spanish person who is very quiet and doesn't react to certain situations. We are not as calm as some of the British, that's for sure, or Germans or Swedish. But that's the nature of our personality."

The Spaniards will have the added incentive of playing well for King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, who will be among the spectators cheering the European team.

"It's always nice to have the king and queen here with us," Olazabal said. "That will put some attention on what is going on back in our country. I truly believe that will be beneficial for the game."