A mere 23 years of age and in only his third full season on the PGA Tour, Tiger Woods already is having to fend off challenges from the younger set.
"It was bound to happen," Woods said Wednesday with a laugh and without a trace of wistfulness. "You can't be the young guy on the block forever. I welcome that."
Woods staged a riveting duel with 19-year-old Sergio Garcia in the final round of the PGA Championship on Sunday, edging the swashbuckling Spaniard by a stroke. The two young guns will hook up again this week in the Sprint International, which begins Thursday at Castle Pines Golf Club.
Garcia, who got his driver's license just last month, ranks only 31st in the world because of having played a limited number of tournaments. But his performance last week -- he was the youngest runnerup in PGA Championship history -- clinched a berth on the 1999 European Ryder Cup team and galvanized the sport like no one since, well, Woods.
Drawing a reaction usually reserved for rock stars, Garcia was mobbed by autograph seekers -- most of them kids -- after Tuesday's practice round here and again before Wednesday's pro-am.
| Fresh off his thrilling victory at Medinah, Woods was hounded at every autograph opportunity Wednesday. (AP)|
It was an extension of the gallery support he received on Sunday at Medinah, when the crowd became more pro-Garcia than pro-Woods.
"I don't know if it was the largest crowd I have played in front f," Garcia said, "but it was one of the best. A crowd has never pushed me and helped me as much as they did."
Woods, asked if Garcia's sudden popularity will relieve some of the pressure that has been on him since 1996, said, "No doubt about it. Now, he is getting the galleries and the attention, the media coverage. When I first came out, it was very tough to focus on golf and budget your time with all the demands on it. David (Duval) went through the same thing. Now Sergio is starting to find that out."
|Double Bogey |
Garcia's shot from the base of a tree on the 16th hole on Sunday -- and his dash up the fairway and leap to see the ball reach the green -- will be a highlight of the 1999 season.
Woods doubted that Garcia, who also jokes and appears to be genuinely having a good time on the course, can maintain that enthusiasm.
"I don't know if he can play with such emotion day to day for 12 months," Woods said. "Speaking from my own experience, I couldn't. I remember in 1997 I was still a very emotional player, but by the time I got to just past the U.S. Open, I was worn out because I had never played that much golf in my life."
| Singh fell one point shty of the tournament record last year. (AP)|
"For me to last for 12 months, I had to be a little more subdued on the golf course. I don't have the highs and lows like I used to, and hence I can last for 12 months."
Woods, who finished fourth in his first International last year, liked his chances here because of his length off the tee and his ability to make birdies, which are rewarded under the modified Stableford scoring system used in this event. A player gets 5 points for an eagle, 2 for birdie, 0 for par, minus-1 for bogey and minus-3 for double bogey or worse.
"This is one of those weeks that I can thoroughly enjoy because you can stretch iout there," he said. "You can be aggressive. In fact, you have to be aggressive. You have to get birdies and hopefully a few eagles along the way."
Garcia, meanwhile, was still adjusting to Castle Pines' 6,200-foot elevation, which causes shots to fly 10-15 percent farther than at sea level.
"Last week I was hitting a 3-wood about 260 yards," Garcia said. "Today I hit a 3-iron that went 280 almost. I'm sure I am going to hit some shots over the green. We're not used to playing here, but it will probably affect me a little more because it is my first time playing here."
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