This week, The Open. Next week, The Wed­ding

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DOUG FER­GU­SON

SOUTH­PORT, ENG­LAND — 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 champ re­turn­ing the claret jug used to be a for­mal­ity. The Royal & An­cient turned it into a show Mon­day, with the Bri­tish Open en­cour­ag­ing 500 fans to fill the grand­stand around the first tee to wit­ness it. 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.

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.

“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.

STU­ART FRANKLIN, GETTY IM­AGES

Ser­gio Gar­cia kisses his fi­ancée, An­gela Akins, at The Open Tues­day.

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