No more excuses for Sergio Garcia
I suppose that if a European is going to win the British Open at Carnoustie, it would be fitting if it was Sergio Garcia - who leads the tournament through the first round at 6-under-par.
No player has borne the weight of a golf continent’s collective expectation more than Garcia in the last 10 years, and no player has missed as many opportunities to meet those expectations. Ever since he burst on the scene and gave Tiger Woods a scare at the 1999 PGA Championship, Garcia has been labeled the future of European golf (not to mention the heir-apparent to Seve Ballesteros and the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of being Woods’ main rival). And through all the tantrums, meltdowns, thrown clubs and spitting spats, Garcia has always seemed to come up short. Rather, it seems Garcia has gladly allowed countryman Miguel Angel Jimenez to carry the flag for Spanish golf while instead he chases skirts in Canada.
Garcia has always played well at the British. Since 2000, Garcia has only missed one cut at the tournament (2004) and has finished in the top 10 every other year (and the top 5 in both 2005 and 2006). This is the first major tournament he played as a professional. If Garcia is ever going to win a major, it’s going to be on European soil.
Golf writers, including yours truly, have been hard on Garcia of late (his pathetic performance in the year’s first two majors certainly fueled our fire). He’s been called a joke and the most overrated player in the Tiger Woods era.
I still think he is. Garcia played brilliantly today, including a run of four birdies in six holes on the home stretch. But he’s really going to have to show me something. Nay, show us something. Now is the time for Garcia to answer his critics and prove that he is worthy of all the praise that’s been spooned on to him from the media’s seemingly bottomless vat of vapid accolades. This sport always seems to give out second chances, but I’m not convinced that golf won’t finally turn on Garcia for good if we see another world class meltdown this week.
That aside, at the start of this year’s British Open there was a lot of focus on how European golfers have struggled at the biggest tournaments in golf. Yours truly asked what the hell had happened to European golf since its heyday, when Nick Faldo was the best player in the world. TravelGolf.com’s Chris Baldwin - who actually stumped Faldo in person when he looked for an explanation for the sad state of affairs in European golf - flat out said a European didn’t have a chance in this year’s Open.
Well, we are a long way off on Sunday, but it looks like, at least in the early stages, European golfers are rising to meet the media’s criticism.
Garcia is on top. But keep going down the leaderboard and tally up those red numbers. No fewer than XXXX are at or near the top of the leaderboard after the fist round of play. And I’m not talking about flukes here. Many of the names are multiple European PGA Tour winners, and even some have had success on the PGA Tour.
Pal McGinley of Ireland (-4): The leader for most of the first round (before being overtaken by Garcia and, for the briefest of spells, John Daly), McGinley is in the clubhouse one off the lead. Don’t remember him? He’s the one who sunk the dramatic, winning putt for the European side during the 2002 Ryder Cup at the Belfry, to halve his match against American Jim Furyk and send the Cup to Europe for the first time since 1997 (the Europeans have yet to relinquish since). McGinley has never come close in a major, but he’s a four time winner on the European Tour - though it has to be said that his last win was in 2005, at the Volvo Masters.
Markus Brier of Austria (-3): He won this year’s Volvo China Open, and is a four-time winner on the European Tour.
Padraig Harrington (-2): An 11-time European Tour winner and Ryder Cup team member, he won this year’s Irish Open. He’s also won twice on the PGA Tour, and a few top-10 major finishes.
Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain (-2): A 14-time winner on the European Tour.
Luke Donald of England (-1): Another two-time European Tour winner, and a two-time PGA Tour winner, including last year’s Honda Classic.
Carl Pettersson of Sweden (-1): He’s got one European Tour title to his name, and two PGA Tour titles, including last year’s Memorial.
Henrik Stenson of Denmark (E): Currently No. 1 on the European Order of Merit, Stenson might be the hottest player on the European Tour this year. He won this year’s Dubai Desert Classic and the World Golf Championships - Accenture Match Play title. He’s a nine-time winner over all, and a member of the European Ryder Cup team.
These are just some. Peter Hanson of Sweden (a two-time European Tour winner) is at 1-under. Thomas Bjorn of Denmark (1-under) is a 12-time European Tour winner and a member of the European Ryder Cup team. Gregory Bourdy of France has never won anything, but he’s at 2-under in the Open.
Of course, it’s much too soon to say that it even looks feasible for a European to win the Open. There’s a lot of golf left to play. But, hey, John Daly was momentarily in contention, so anything can happen.
I’ll still stick with Tiger Woods. But it has been eight years since a European won a major golf title, and the time has long since arrived for that drought to end.
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