Following his loss at the PGA Championship, Sergio Garcia briefly - very briefly - showed class even Ben Hogan could appreciate. Column: So close to changing his rep, Sergio Garcia loses more than the PGA Championship late

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - As a 50-foot Charlie Wi putt that's meaningless to everyone but Charlie Wi rolls within inches of the cup on 18, Sergio Garcia hurries over to give Wi a big smile and a tap on the back of the head. No one seems more surprised or touched by this than Wi himself.

Garcia's own major dreams have been ripped out like golf's version of a stolen kidney and scattered all around the last three holes at Oakland Hills Country Club's South Course. Yet Garcia is grinning, celebrating another golfer's never-noticed-in-the-first-place-to-be-forgotten moment. He makes Wi feel good even though you know he has to be absolutely dying inside.

If only this can be our last image of Sergio Garcia at the 90th PGA Championship. If only he can leave us with this great bit of classy sportsmanship, the type of moment that, let's be honest, you'd never see from a beaten Tiger Woods.

When Garcia grins all the way off of 18, even as Padraig Harrington continues his majors tradition of breaking every stereotype about those wild-partying Irish, there's real hope, too. But wait ... there's a CBS cameraman trying to pull a cord out from Garcia's foot even as Garcia does a European TV interview, because the CBS guys want to rush and catch Harrington lift that trophy.

Uh oh. This is surely going to set off a Bobby Knight-worthy volcano ... Garcia looks down, annoyed. He steps over the cord, then shakes his head ... grinning.

Maybe this is a new Sergio Garcia, a noble loser who you cannot help but feel bad for even more than you delight in the Irishman who suddenly cannot stop winning majors. No matter how much Garcia blinks on 16, he played well, shot 5-under in the final two rounds of a major on a tough golf course. He conducted himself with a class that Ben Hogan could appreciate.

Suddenly, for several long minutes at Oakland Hills, Sergio Garcia was the second place winner. A little while longer and all that stuff from his past - the spitting into the cup, the pathetic "the golf gods conspired against me" whine from Carnoustie, the way 90 percent of the other players seem to dislike him - all of it would be gone.

Then ...

"I'm sure you guys will try and find a way to switch it around," Garcia said, glaring at his third-set of media questioners. "I'm sure you'll make it about something I did wrong."

It comes out - and then Garcia is gone, the bitterness of blaming everyone but himself rushing back. Later, in his massive press conference in the media center, he greeted a question about being three shots ahead at the 10th hole with a smolder.

"Next question please," Garcia demanded, not even fully looking up. "Let's try to keep this as positive as we can please."

Why, Sergio? Why?

So close to being remembered for standing tall in your lowest moment, only to throw it all away. Just like Padraig Harrington thought Garcia did with the tournament on No. 16, when the Spaniard hit one into the water from a place you just cannot hit one in the water from.

"I was surprised, you know, on 16, I was surprised," Harrington said. "It was within his control. ... It was a shot that I think all three guys behind us played to front-left of the green."

Garcia played it to the right-hand side. Plop goes a championship?

"When I was on the 17th tee, I felt like I was going to win the PGA Championship," Harrington continued. "On the 16th tee, I didn't feel that way."

In truth, that was more than a little harsh from Harrington, the most honest man in golf. For the winner to all but declare Garcia a choker is the ultimate 'screw you.' And not quite the full reality. For Garcia hit a great shot from the drop zone and sunk a clutch putt on 16 to save bogey and to give himself a chance.

Complete chokers cannot recover that quickly. Not in one shot.

But Garcia kept kicking any sympathy away by saying things like, "(Harrington) hit a great putt, if he doesn't hit that put ..." and "I had a couple of putts that just didn't want to go in."

Where's Nancy Kerrigan unleashing her famous, pleading torrent of "Why? Why? Why?" when you need her?

It's Sergio Garcia who cannot let Carnoustie go

As Garcia got into his round, a few different fans started yelling out, "It's your time, Sergio!" Those sporadic, irregular shouts are as much reminders of all Garcia's lost over the years as they are of all he has to gain.

Garcia thought his time would come at the Black at Bethpage State Park Golf Course six years ago. Even after Tiger Woods yanked that trophy away, the young and even brasher Garcia wasn't worried. "It's just a matter of time," Garcia memorably told Jim McKay, Phil Mickelson's caddie.

Time has a funny way of rushing by, though. In life. In golf. Don't respect time, and it will send an unfazeable Irishman your way.

For there is Garcia five years later last July, holding the British Open lead every day - until Harrington blows by him in a playoff at Carnoustie.

And now who played Lucy to Sergio's Charlie Brown again?

"There was no Carnoustie here," Garcia insisted. "It was Oakland Hills. It's a different major."

In many ways, you could not pick a weirder setting for Sergio's shot at salvation. Plagued by pitiful attendance till Sunday, local indifference and international Olympic Games overshadowing, this PGA Championship sometimes seemed like a Reno-Tahoe Open - minus the Michelle Wie hype.

On Sunday, one of those advertising-banner planes buzzed overhead the course. Only there was no colorful banner ad for a car company, clothing line or a new restaurant like usual. Instead, it was a plain white one reading, "Got Scrap Metal? Call 877-IRON MIKE!"

Only in metro Detroit.

The Twilight Zone can be sweet too, though. Mighty sweet if you're hoisting hardware.

And hey, if Harrington ever gets sick of that Wanamaker Trophy, Iron Mike will certainly take it for scrap.

Which is where Garcia finds his majors vision and sadly, needlessly, his reputation.

"Sergio is one of the best guys I've ever played with," said Wi, a 36-year-old journeyman who obviously didn't expect Garcia to make his day. Wi watched Garcia disappear from view: "He's great."

If only Sergio Garcia could have left us at Charlie Wi.

August 11, 2008

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Comments Leave a comment
  • Garcia

    George wrote on: Aug 12, 2008

    Garcia will become a great player when he quit acting like a high school punk that never grew up. He is obnoxious, More »


  • wrong on Garcia-Wi moment

    mahatma wrote on: Aug 11, 2008

    Garcia was excited about the Wi putt because it gave him a great read on his own putt -- not the reason you write about. More »


      • RE: wrong on Garcia-Wi moment

        Chris Baldwin wrote on: Aug 13, 2008

        You don't get all smiley faced and practically start rubbing Charlie Wi's head because you're excited about a putt read. More »


          • RE: RE: wrong on Garcia-Wi moment

            Gerry wrote on: Aug 24, 2008

            Great sport Garcia where Mr. Wi was concerned, I'll give you that. But what of his reaction to Harrington? A repeat of More »


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