Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Sony Open in Hawaii
Power surge
Sergio Garcia, coming off his Mercedes Championships win on Maui, is poised to take control of the West Coast Swing with a good showing at the Sony Open, which starts tomorrow.

Sergio Garcia is the big man
on the PGA Tour after his win
in the Mercedes Championships

Field gears up
Kids take on stars

By Paul Arnett

SERGIO GARCIA is not riding the Titanic proclaiming he is the king of the world. This is not just some brash 22-year-old with big dreams but an empty bag. The next Tiger Woods? Preposterous. The young man two ponds removed from his homeland of Spain carries his own brand of irons.

Local golf fans lucky enough to wander the Plantation Course last week saw Garcia start slow at the Mercedes Championships but shoot 17-under over the final three days in conditions often reminiscent of the British Open.

While the winners-only field of 31 shot high numbers on a breezy Friday and Saturday, Garcia aimed low in the unusual Kona winds. The top contenders who had played at Kapalua before know how to swing in the trades. But Kona? On this weekend, local knowledge was a dangerous thing.

Not having played on Maui before, Garcia adjusted quicker than most of his challengers. While their minds were clogged with meaningless clubs and yardages for the traditional tradewinds, Garcia was focused on one set of numbers and it led to a playoff win over David Toms.

Garcia spoke with the media during the pro-am round, discussing his pending rivalry with Tiger Woods. He not only knocked off Woods last week, but 30 other talented golfers who won PGA Tour events last year as well. Garcia reminded everyone of that fact after winning on Sunday.

But there's no room on a poster for 30 young guns. For every Jack Nicklaus, there must be an Arnold Palmer. And golf can't wait to put Woods on one side of the Atlantic and Garcia on the other.

Only on the rarest occasions do they come face to face with the No. 1 ranking at stake, not just in the eyes of a HAL 9000 computer, but to the world stage where this kind of rivalry belongs. Fans want to see them striding side by side at The Masters, British Open and Ryder Cup.

They're friendly on the surface. These two guys aren't sitting on opposite sides of the clubhouse. But the rivalry is intense enough to command front-page news from Honolulu to London to Lisbon.

This week, Woods is away in New Zealand, competing in a tournament close to where his caddy Stevie Williams grew up and played golf. Woods is pocketing a cool $2 million under the table, much to the dismay of local Sony Open officials who want Woods in the house.

Garcia becomes the main event at the Sony Open and has an opportunity to build a relationship with Oahu followers, who will flock to Waialae Country Club to catch a glimpse of this star on the rise. If he stays as hot as he was on Sunday, where he fired a final-round 64 to catch Toms on the 72nd hole, only to shoot past him on the 73rd, watch out.

Toms said Garcia still sees this as more of a game than a business. The grind hasn't caught him, made him lose his love for something he does as well as anyone in the world. Even a bad 2000 that left many wondering if Garcia had already flamed out didn't crush his confidence.

"I've always been very competitive, very competitive," Garcia said. "You know, I remember early in my amateur career, I had this guy who always beat me. He will always beat me only at this tournament. It was the biggest tournament for us at that age (14) for Spain. His name was Carlos Del Corrall. I'll be so angry, I cried a lot of times because of that. He always beat me one or two shots. It really got me pretty angry."

This kind of fire is what makes Garcia a worthy foe for Woods. Not that the Spaniard wants this Ali-Frazier billing. But he believes at 22 that he can be as good as Woods is now at 26, maybe even better. Maybe even be the leading money winner in Europe and America.

"You've been asking me this for a long time," Garcia said to the national media on Sunday. "I've always said that, yes, it's great for you guys to become the rivalry of Tiger Woods, whatever. But I've always said there are not just two guys playing the tournament."

But there might as well be if Garcia continues his hot hand in week two of the West Coast Swing. Today he celebrates his 22nd birthday, and he said last week, "I'll probably just have a nice dinner with my parents and some friends. Hopefully, I'll get lucky. Know what I mean?"

Not really. But perhaps a guy like Woods would.

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