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Like Seve, Sergio elevates his game for Ryder Cup
It was a warm Saturday last May. Sergio Garcia had just three-putted the 17th hole at THE PLAYERS Stadium Course for bogey. The European Ryder Cup captain was ready for the explosion -- or would it be an implosion, this time?
"You can imagine the old Sergio, either he wouldn't have made it to the 18th tee in one piece, or his clubs (wouldn't)," Faldo said. "But the way he now can deal with things, he has so much more patience.
"I believe that he's recognized, wow ... the more patient he stays, the better his performance is. And we've seen it. He's a different guy, isn't he?"
The young Spaniard with the old soul went on to win The Players Championship that week. He contended at the US PGA Championship before rinsing a shot on the 16th hole on Sunday. He took Mr. August, Vijay Singh, to a sudden-death playoff at The Barclays.
And this week, Garcia comes to Valhalla primed to lead his Ryder Cup teammates to what they hope will be their fourth straight victory, and sixth in the last seven renewals. He brings a 14-4-2 record to the competition -- and a target on his back as the man the Americans would most like to defeat.
Garcia went 4-1-0 two years ago, beaten only by Stewart Cink in Singles, where the Spaniard inexplicably is most vulnerable with three losses in four attempts. Conversely, he is unbeaten in eight Foursomes matches and 5-1-2 in Four-Ball.
"I've just had good partners," Garcia said simply when asked to explain his success.
Cink said the Europeans don't have a Tiger Woods who is head-and-shoulders above the competition. Garcia, though, every two years at the Ryder Cup, comes close.
"And if you can get a win early against him or his partner, yeah, definitely gives you some confidence, no question," Cink said.
Like his countryman, Seve Ballesteros, Garcia thrives on passion, not patience, when hearts beat and national pride swells at the Ryder Cup. He is the quintessential match play performer, and his leadership provides the soul of this year's European Team.
"There's something that happens inside him that just fits this format," U.S. Captain Paul Azinger says. "If you could bottle it, you would probably sell it. I don't know what it is. It's intangibles. You can't always identify what the intangible is, but he seems to have that.
"He always putts better. We're all clear on that one, and he brings the best out of you as a partner. For whatever reason, that's the secret formula we're all trying to figure out, really. One day when we get older, hopefully I can get it from him."
Faldo agreed. He never played a match with Ballesteros -- fire and ice just don't mix -- but they were teammates at eight Ryder Cups. He has seen first-hand how both Spaniards can elevate their game.
"When you see Sergio, you see Seve," the taciturn Brit said. "They love this event. Obviously match play, again, is different, isn't it, to play, and he gets fired up. He's fired up on the golf course; he's great off the golf course; so he is a key member to the team."
With Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke on the sidelines this year, the 28-year-old, who Faldo says has "matured at the speed of light," is clearly poised to seize the spotlight. Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington are veterans more likely to lead by example while Garcia will provide the pizzazz.
"There's been all types of different attitudes," Westwood said. "I'm one of the more placid ones, but you only have to look at Sergio, he's got a great record and he's bubbly and outgoing and bouncing around all over the place, so to me there's many different ways to become a successful Ryder Cup player."
Garcia, though, actually doesn't like it when people try to thrust the leadership role on his slender shoulders. He wants to be there for his teammates, but he thinks it is more important for the group to jell than one to excel.
"I'm not going to kick my chest out and say I'm the leader of this team, no," Garcia said. "There are 12 leaders on this team and the most important thing is that we are all together. To me, that's the key thing."
Still, Robert Karlsson, who is playing in his second Ryder Cup, says he can tell Westwood and Garcia are stepping up to fill the void left by Monty and Clarke. And the Swede is quick to point out that you can't underestimate Garcia's influence.
"The team would never be the same without him," Karlsson said simply. "He really, really seems to love being around people and he knows that if I win, I win for 11 more people, not only for myself. It seems to help him a bit."
Maybe therein lies the key. Garcia enjoys the time in the team room as much as the battles on the course. The bonds formed this week override the individual accomplishments that are integral to a victory.
"To me, it doesn't make a difference," Garcia said. "I've always said it, and I say it from the bottom of my heart; I would rather go 0 and 5 and win The Ryder Cup as a team than go 5 and 0 and lose it.
"It's not about me this week. It's about the European Team and coming together and achieving our goal and obviously playing well and retaining the Cup. That's all that matters to me."