A sweet year for Sergio Garcia who hopes to make it even better at Royal Birkdale
SOUTHPORT, England (AP) — Sergio Garcia won't be wearing his green jacket from Augusta National at his wedding.
What about pouring champagne from a claret jug?
Garcia doesn't have one yet, though he loves the thought of such possibilities, especially considering that only four months ago, the 36-year-old Spaniard was learning to accept his career might end without a major. Now he is a Masters champion who is soaking up a year of celebration.
He arrived at Royal Birkdale with two big events on the horizon. First up is the British Open, the major where he has had his most consistent success with 10 top-10 finishes, including the last three in a row. And then he's off to Texas for his marriage July 29 to Angela Akins.
For Garcia, it's one major at a time.
His mind is on Royal Birkdale, traditionally one of the toughest links courses in England.
"It's going to be where it has to be this week," Garcia said. "Angela has been doing a great job of getting everything ready for the wedding, and obviously, we're really excited for next week. But we have something that we're also extremely excited about this week. And we want to be here giving everything we have, and hopefully with a chance on Sunday."
Garcia wants what Henrik Stenson had to return on Monday.
The champion returning the claret jug used to be a mere formality. The Royal & Ancient turned it into a show on Monday, with the British Open encouraging 500 fans to fill the grandstand around the first tee to witness the occasion.
And now it's up for grabs again.
Stenson is the defending champion. Padraig Harrington feels like one considered he is the last player to win the British Open at Royal Birkdale. In 2008, he started the week with an injury and ended it with a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter to become Europe's first back-to-back British Open champion in more than a century.
"I enjoy the week because I'm not quite defending, but I'm coming back here and making the most of it," Harrington said. "Because these good feelings don't come around that often."
Garcia would have been a logical choice to challenge on just about any links.
This is the major he grew up watching in Spain — he was 8 when Seve Ballesteros won his third British Open in 1988 at St. Andrews. He dreamed of winning all four majors, and now that he finally has one, he's thinking that way again.
Asked the impossible question Monday — would it mean more to own a green jacket or a silver jug? — Garcia said both were amazing.
"At the moment, the green jacket means more because I have it," he said. "But everybody knows how much I love The Open Championship. And I would love to at least have one of them before I hang up the boot. So definitely, it's something that I would like to achieve. And we're going to give it a shot this week."
Garcia swears the Masters didn't change him. And much like that week at Augusta National, he has managed to keep his expectations to a minimum knowing how fickle this game can be. He hasn't played in a month, when Andres Romero raced by him on the final day in Germany to win the BMW International Open. He has every reason to believe his game is good while realizing that doesn't mean anything until the Open starts Thursday.
"I can't tell you if I'm going to be right up there on Sunday with a chance," he said. "I'm hoping that I will be, but unfortunately, it doesn't work like that every week. But you also have to realize that after winning Augusta, you still want to push hard and get more majors. So it's not like everything is done and that's it."
There are still moments when he's willing to look behind at some painful losses.
He would love to have that putt again on the 18th at Carnoustie, which caught the lip and gave him a bogey, leading to the playoff that Harrington won. Garcia would love to be able to hit his tee shot again on the 15th at Royal Liverpool, which found a pot bunker to the right of the green and required two shots to get out. He was runner-up that week for the fourth time.
But he no longer considers that he was playing against "more than the field," his infamous phrase from Carnoustie when he complained about bad breaks that always seemed to fall his way.
"Somebody else played a little bit better than me, and that's what happens," he said.
The Masters defined his career. Winning the British Open, or any other major, would take it to a higher level. Either way, all is good in his life. Garcia contends he has always been happy. This year has simply been better. Much better.
"Like we say in Spain, 'The more sugar, the sweeter it is,'" he said. "So obviously, winning the Masters made it even sweeter. But it doesn't mean I wasn't happy before."
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