Sergio Garcia in a good place as he plots British Open bid
Major success at the US Masters has instilled further confidence in the popular Spaniard
Rory McIlroy in action during a practice round for the the 146th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale, Southport. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters
Sergio Garcia: “I am excited about it. I am confident about my possibilities, but I can’t tell you if I’m going to be right up there on Sunday with a chance.” Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
A packed driving range provided visible evidence that this is different from a regular week on tour: that the quest for the Claret Jug, and the sport’s oldest championship title, is one that occupies minds more than is normal.
For some, there were duties to attend to; most especially for Henrik Stenson, who arrived in a swanky Mercedes Benz F015 with the old jug by his side. The optics of the Swede handing over the trophy to Martin Slumbers, the chief executive of the R&A, is the sign that it is again all to play for.
And, for Sergio Garcia, that means it is time to focus on golf rather than on wedding planning. At least for the moment, as the Spaniard – who weds next week – puts his eyes on a trophy that has tantalisingly evaded his clutches so far in his career. No wedding planning, not this week; just crisply striking balls on the range, working on the short game.
What is different this time is that Garcia has arrived to this 146th edition of the Open championship without a monkey on his back.
His win in the US Masters in April has ensured that tag of best-player-never-to-win-a-Major has been passed on to others – Hideki Matsuyama? Jon Rahm? Rickie Fowler? Justin Thomas? Maybe even Tommy Fleetwood? – and, with that weight of expectation lifted, Garcia has a new lightness.
“Winning the Masters was amazing, and it does give you a little bit of extra confidence. And I’ve been having a solid year. So all of those things are great. But every week is different, and you don’t know how you’re going to feel when you go out there on the course.
“I am excited about it. I am confident about my possibilities, but I can’t tell you if I’m going to be right up there on Sunday with a chance. I’m hoping I will be but unfortunately it doesn’t work like that every week. At the end of the day you have to realise that, after winning Augusta, you still want to push hard and get more Majors. It’s not like everything is done and that’s it.”
Links golf suits Garcia. He is a ball-striker, but he also has creativity. Indeed, he has had 10 top-10s in the British Open through his career, including two runner-up finishes: in 2007, when Pádraig Harrington beat him in a playoff at Carnoustie; and in 2014, when Rory McIlroy held him off at Hoylake.
Bitter? A little bit?
Not a bit of it, not according to Garcia.
“They’re still painful because they’re chances that you wish you would have taken and unfortunately you didn’t,” he observed of those near-misses, before expanding: “It definitely made [winning] the Masters more enjoyable. Am I happier? I don’t think I am happier. I’m really happy. But fortunately for me I’ve been very happy pretty much my whole life. So that hasn’t changed. Like we say in Spain, ‘the more sugar, the sweeter it is’. So winning the Masters has made it even sweeter, but it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t happy before.”
Garcia missed both the Irish Open and the Scottish Open in recent weeks but his fellow Spaniards Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello flew the red and yellow flag with some aplomb.
On the possibility of a third straight Spanish win on the links swing, Garcia – smiling – responded: “It would be amazing. With Muguruza winning at Wimbledon, Rafa winning at Roland Garros, Spanish sport is at a good stage . . . but for Spanish golf, it’s been great. It’s probably the [most] winning year we’ve had, between the PGA Tour and the European Tour. We’re going to try and keep it up as much as possible.”
Arrangements for the upcoming wedding will be placed on the shelf for the next week, as Garcia pursues a championship that first captured his imagination as a young child.
“I grew up dreaming of winning all of them. But the European one is the one you relate to probably the better, because I remember in Spain as a kid, we couldn’t see the Masters on TV. They would not show it. The British Open, you could see it here and there and it was during the day. And when you’re 10 years old, your parents don’t allow you to stay up until 11 or 12 at night watching TV.
“You do kind of relate to this one a little bit more . . . but, like I said, I did and I still do love to have all four for sure.”