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Sergio Takes Center Stage

Greg Norman thinks Garcia has the talent to make good on his boast. "He could lead both tours. I led them both, and so can he," says Norman, who topped the PGA Tour money list three times and the Euro Tour in 1982, but never pulled off the feat in the same year. "I am a huge fan of his. Sergio expresses himself out there. He does it with joviality, with freedom, and that's what people want to see. They don't want to see machines. We need personality out there." Norman thinks he knows why so many pros look so glum: "Is it about Tiger?Maybe. Maybe he's setting a standard so high that guys think they can't beat him. That's why I'm so glad Sergio is around—he can keep things alive."

Garcia may have to keep his team alive at the Ryder Cup. Tom Lehman, who went 3-0 in Ryder Cup singles from 1995 through 1999, thinks he is up to the task. "Sergio is one of the best players they have, if not the best," Lehman says. "He might only be twenty-two but he is a take-charge, full-speed-ahead guy." Two-time Cup player Peter Jacobsen agrees: "Sergio should be a leader for them, if they'll let him. It might only be his second Ryder Cup, but he can fill that bill. He'll lead that team for the next fifteen or twenty years." Yet Garcia will be the underdog if European team captain Sam Torrance sends him up against Woods in Sunday's singles. Tiger has beaten Sergio every time it mattered, from Medinah in '99 to this year's Masters and U.S. Open. At the Open, paired with Woods in the final group on Sunday, Garcia wilted yet again in the face of Tiger's superior firepower and will.

That was no storybook week. After Friday's rainy second round, Sergio popped off at the USGA, griping about its supposed favoritism toward Woods. Garcia's endless pre-shot waggles frustrated Open fans, a few of whom counted his regrips aloud. He shook his fist—and maybe part of his middle finger—at his hecklers, who called him "Wagglepuss," "El Grumpo" and "Mr. Hingis," a snide reference to his girlfriend, tennis star Martina Hingis. As the pressure grew, his waggles got worse. Garcia doesn't waggle in practice and had seemingly beaten the habit months ago. "I am the first to be angry when I take too long," he told T&L Golf before the Open. Now here he was, regripping fifteen . . . twenty . . . thirty times. It didn't help: He fell back on Sunday and wound up shaking his head in the locker room, standing in silence with his father.

Still, Garcia's spirit won't let him sulk for long. On that Saturday morning he had written a note of apology and stuck it on Woods's locker—a gesture that was at once high-school boyish and mature—and he even found humor in the heckles he'd heard. "Even if I don't win," he said at the Open, "I'm leaving with a lot of new nicknames."

Maybe beery fans will soon call him "El Cuppo." For Garcia, the 2002 Ryder Cup will be a new opportunity to win one against Tiger with the world watching, a chance to topple the windmill at last.

¡TE AMO SERGIO! Teen girls swear their love on T-shirts at every tournament he plays. At Bay Hill this year, one of them burst from the gallery carrying a dozen roses for him and got a kiss in return.

I love Tiger?It doesn't fit. Woods inspires awe, not affection. Woods guards his secrets and nurses grudges to fuel his competitive fire, while Garcia is as secretive as a chat room. In five minutes he will tell you he misses good paella but could survive on pizza, burgers and ice cream, loves playing practice rounds with "Jesper and Chuck Howell," still thinks in Spanish, curses bad shots in both Spanish and English, sleeps like a rock, is superstitious about the way his clubs are arranged in his bag (driver and three-wood in one slot, irons and wedges in four others, putter alone), and wears boxer shorts. He also has a romantic wish to confide: "I hope Martina and I stay together."

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