Sun shines on Garcia in PGA

19-year-old leads Haas, 2 others by 2

August 13, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEDINAH, Ill. -- When the golf world last viewed Sergio Garcia, the 19-year-old phenom from Spain was crying on his mother's shoulder, leaving the grounds of Carnoustie after shooting an opening-round 89 in last month's British Open. He kept his emotions together the next day, but his game was still in ruins.

Yesterday, Garcia found redemption in the opening round of the 81st PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club.

After rain had soaked the fairways, softened the greens and left a formidable course a lot more forgiving, the sun came out in this Chicago suburb. It was certainly shining on Garcia, who birdied two of the last three holes after a 47-minute lightning delay to finish with a 6-under 66.

Garcia leads three players -- veteran Jay Haas, J.P. Hayes and Mike Weir, a left-hander from Canada -- by two shots. Four others were three shots behind. Among the 14 players players at 2-under-par 70 were Tiger Woods, David Duval, Tom Lehman, two-time PGA champion Nick Price and Hale Open, who won the last of his three U.S. Opens here in 1990.

The youngest player to enter the PGA Championship since a 20-year-old named Gene Sarazen won the title in 1922, Garcia also became the youngest player to lead a major since fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, then 19, led the British Open at Royal Birkdale in 1976. Garcia's round tied the competitive course record set by four players at the 1990 Open.

"I just want to say one thing -- I think I proved myself today," said Garcia, who won't turn 20 until January. "I think the British Open is done, and I don't want to hear any more questions about the British Open. The difference is that here I played very good and everything went the right way. At the Open, everything went the wrong way. That's the biggest difference. Nothing else."

His round yesterday was more reminiscent of some of the rounds he had earlier this year: The three straight rounds in the 60s he shot to win his first event as a pro, at the Irish Open in July. The opening-round 62 he had the week before the British Open at Loch Lomond, where he finished tied for second.

As hard as he tried to forget what happened at Carnoustie, where a second-round 83 left him dead last at 30-over par, Garcia has been reminded of it constantly. When he missed the cut at last week's Buick Open in Michigan, the European tabloids wrote about a slump. Garcia simply attributed it to jet lag.

"Everybody was asking, `What went wrong at the Open, what happened at the Open?' " said Garcia, who is under the same kind of scrutiny back home that Woods was after turning pro three years ago. "It seemed like I had something to prove and that's what I did. Today was a great day."

It was also a wet and gloomy day for most of the opening round. It made some shots hard to see, especially early in the morning, and some holes hard to play. But just as happened when the Open was played here nine years ago, it made birdies easier to come by than at most major championships.

Medinah's famed No. 3 course once again became a gentle monster. It succumbed to 32 players who found themselves under par. Not quite the Open-record 39 that took advantage of similarly soft conditions in 1990, but it made the leader board more reminiscent of Milwaukee or Hartford rather than Augusta or Pinehurst.

"The course kind of showed that under these kind of conditions, it can be had," said Lehman, a former British Open champion.

Until Garcia started making his move late in the day, the leader board didn't look like any you typically see at a major.

Haas, 45, has been in the hunt in majors several times during a respectable 24-year career that has included nine victories and more than $7 million in earnings, but admittedly hasn't come close to winning any of them. Hayes, 32, won his first PGA Tour event last year, but has struggled this year. Weir, 29, is just starting to show some promise after losing his tour card as a rookie last season.

"In every major championship, there's always an inordinate number of players under par after the first day," said Woods, 23, still looking to back up his history-making win at the 1997 Masters. "The further it goes along, that's when the golf course becomes more difficult as well as the pressure of playing in a major championship."

The pressure will certainly build for Garcia. Aside from finding redemption, Garcia came here looking to improve his position to make this year's European Ryder Cup team. He is currently 12th on the points list, and would likely have to finish in the top five here to move among the top 10 who'll get automatic spots.

Garcia seemed unfazed, almost accustomed to the spotlight that will follow him to the first tee this morning.

Asked whether he will be comfortable playing as the leader, Garcia smiled.

"I always liked to be two strokes ahead," he said. "I think there's nothing better than it. And tomorrow, if I can be four, I can tell you that I'm not going to feel any pressure. But I feel comfortable the way I am now, and I'm going to try and keep it there. If not, we'll have to wait for next time. But I feel confident."

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

The Leader...

Sergio Garcia 35-33-68

...and selected followers

Jay Haas 35-33-68

Mike Weir 36-32-68

J.P. Hayes 35-33-68

Jerry Kelly 34-35-69

Brian Watts 33-36-69

Stewart Cink 33-36-69

Brandt Jobe 34-35-69

David Duvall 34-36-70

Tiger Woods 36-34-70

Hale Irwin 34-36-70

Nick Faldo 34-37-71

Davis Love 34-37-71

Mark O'Meara 36-36-72

Paul Lawrie 34-39-73

Jean Van de Velde 38-36-74

Vijay Singh 37-37-74

Greg Norman 37-38-75

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