The Open: Claret Jug is the prize Garcia really wants

16 July 2017 15:00

"The Masters is like the Champions League, but the British Open is like the Champions' Champions League."

The words of Sergio Garcia who, in the wake of his long overdue maiden major win at Augusta, resisted any urge to elevate the Masters above the Open.

Such a shift in the affable Spaniard's perspective would have been understandable, given that his Georgia joy had banished the pain of so many major-championship disappointments.

But even with the green jacket stretched proudly across his puffed-out chest, Garcia pined for the incomparable prestige of golf's oldest major.

That it has been the stage for Garcia's most gut-wrenching failures has done little to dampen his love for it. If anything, his desire to one day lay hands upon the Claret Jug has been strengthened by the burden of those near-misses.

His record is a remarkable one – 10 top-10 finishes, a play-off loser in 2007, tied for second in 2014. Just last year he earned a share of fifth place, albeit a long way adrift of the titanic tussle between Phil Mickelson and eventual winner Henrik Stenson.

The Swede's stunning Troon triumph, which broke his major duck at the age of 40, may well have served as a timely reminder to Garcia – even now a mere 37 – that golf is a sport in which the winds of time erode talent at a mercifully slow rate.

Garcia had for a long time seemed older than his years, a perception explained by the fact he first appeared in a major at the 1996 Open, when he was just 16.

In the two decades between that outing at Royal Lytham & St Annes and this year's play-off win over Justin Rose, Garcia had featured in so many 'if only' moments that even he had come to the bleak conclusion that he was destined never to win a major.

He said in 2012, after a third-round 75 saw him slip out of contention at the Masters: "I'm not good enough... I don't have the thing I need to have. I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place." 

And that candid confession gave the impression of a man whose best days were behind him, who had simply failed to realise his outstanding potential.

But now, with an Augusta success on his CV, Garcia is a golfer reborn. He heads to Royal Birkdale unencumbered by the weight of an unkind, but previously not unfounded, expectation that he would crumble if major glory should loom into view.

In his present incarnation, Garcia is a man who people expect to win. If he should do so on Merseyside, he would join Seve Ballesteros as one of only two Spaniards to have win the Open and join him too as an undisputed legend of the game.

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