x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Garcia looking for the lost form of his youth

With no top-three finish for 18 months, the Spaniard is trying to bypass poor play and a broken heart.

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, was considered the natural successor of such greats as Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
Sergio Garcia, of Spain, was considered the natural successor of such greats as Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.

As Europe's newest and youngest star, Matteo Manassero, prepares to take his first professional steps in Italy tomorrow, just 17 days after his 17th birthday, across the Atlantic there is a golfer who knows all about great expectations. And all about disappointment now. Sergio Garcia was, with good reason, hailed as the next world-beater back in 1999.

Only 19 at the time, he won the Irish Open less than three months into his pro career, almost beat Tiger Woods at the US PGA Championship, then took to the Ryder Cup like a duck to water. The natural successor to Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal had only to stay on his feet, it seemed, to follow them as major winners. But 11 years on it has not yet happened and after a weekend when 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shot 58 to win in Japan and 20-year-old Rory McIlroy stormed to his first US Tour victory with a 62, the 30-year-old Garcia badly needs to rediscover some magic of his own.

Colin Montgomerie, the Ryder Cup captain, certainly wants him to. "We need him on the team - a team without him is a weaker team," said Montgomerie. "He has to show his form, that's all, and I wish him well." Happy memories could help. Garcia, without a top three finish for 18 months and down from second in the world then to 25th now, returns this week to the Sawgrass Course in Florida where two years ago he achieved what remains his biggest win so far.

The Players Championship is often referred to as golf's 'unofficial fifth major', but much to Garcia's regret, it does not count as one and now that the World Golf Championships are well-established it simply does not carry the same weight around the globe as it does in the States. That is a view reinforced by the fact that Miguel Angel Jimenez, Edoardo Molinari and Soren Hansen have all opted for the Italian Open instead and Japan's top two players, Ishikawa and Yuta Ikeda, have not made the trip to Florida either.

This despite a total purse of US$9.5 million (Dh34.9m) and a first prize of more than $1.7m that makes the Players golf's richest event. Garcia should take heart from the fact that McIlroy lifted the Quail Hollow Championship after a miserable run of form, albeit far briefer than his own. Without a top 20 finish in his last eight stroke play events people are wondering just what lasting scars were left by being ditched a year ago by Greg Norman's daughter Morgan-Leigh. Garcia made no secret of the fact that it hit him hard and in terms of his career the good times have yet to come again. "It was probably the first time I have been really in love," he said last summer. "I haven't been hitting the ball well and that's a mix of being a little bit down and not really feeling like playing much.

"When that happens your head is not in the right place and you are not thinking the right things, which obviously affects your game." * PA