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Sergio Garcia in hunt for his first major at U.S. Open

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Sergio Garcia is 28. He has won 17 times around the planet. And played in 38 majors, where he has eight top-five finishes, including a pair of seconds.

LA JOLLA, Calif. - Sergio Garcia is 28. He has won 17 times around the planet. And played in 38 majors, where he has eight top-five finishes, including a pair of seconds.

All of which gets you nothing but more questions from inquiring minds. The weasels.

There is little gray area with the 5-10 Spaniard, who can strike the ball, as they say, as well as anyone. And we do mean anyone. Folks tend to adore him or, well, not. If you're European, he's a hero, because he pretty much does nothing but trash U.S. butts every other year in the Ryder Cup, on either side of the Atlantic. He's got a bunch of Seve Ballesteros in him, which is good and bad. Of course, Seve won five majors in 10 years, before for whatever reason his flame went out way too soon. It makes a difference.

Sometimes, it's all about images. There was "El Nino," who took Tiger Woods to the wall at the 1999 PGA Championship and captured hearts along the way with his passion and flair. Of course, the same guy flipped the bird at a fan at the 2002 U.S. Open. And spit into a cup after missing a putt at a 2007 World Golf Championship. And there was last July's British Open, where he blew a fourth-round lead and lost in a four-hole playoff to Padraig Harrington. He needed a par on the closing hole of regulation, but instead missed the green and a 10-foot putt and settled for bogey. If the ball drops, his world changes. It grazed the left side of the cup, as if taunting him. One agonizing inch.

Then, he came into the interview room and whined about how he had to be the unluckiest person to ever pick up a club. This, from a guy who has counted Martina Hingis and Morgan-Leigh Norman among his companion-for-the-moment club. Anyway, it's never been his fault. The rest of us, which means mostly ugly Americans, simply don't understand.

Which brings us to last month's Players Championship, which isn't really a major but at least tries to play one on TV. For the first time in 3 years, he lifted a trophy in the States. OK, so he only beat Paul Goydos, in sudden death. Still, he actually made some putts when he had to, which he usually only does when he's sporting the colors of Team Euro. And he became a cuddly story once again, particularly when he opened his victory speech by thanking the injured Tiger Woods for not being there. Nice touch.

The world's No. 1 is at Torrey Pines, where the 108th U.S. Open begins this morning, after a nearly 2-month absence because of knee surgery. So is San Diego's own Phil Mickelson, who was once the best player who had yet to win a major. Now, that's Garcia's middle name.

Many figured he probably would have one or two by now. Or maybe even more. Including him. That's how it is, with expectations. Winning the closest thing to a major helps. But at some point, preferably sooner, you need something more than a reasonable facsimile to get by.

Or else continue to deal with the obvious hole in the resume. Just ask Colin Montgomerie.

Maybe it's about time the golf gods finally tossed him a really big bone.

"I guess winning the Players is always something huge," Garcia said the other day. "That gives you a lot of confidence, winning on a tough golf course and probably the deepest field we play all year. So that's something important for a player. It was a great victory.

"I'm looking forward to keeping that momentum going, and hopefully give myself a good chance this weekend. Like any U.S. Open, it's just a matter of being patient, knowing that throughout 4 days something wrong is going to happen at one time and you've got to be able to overcome it and make sure you can move forward."

Words to grind by.

"Every time you're trying to win a big event, you're a little bit nervous and you're trying to control your emotions and stuff," is how he compared his Sundays at the British Open and the Players. "They were great experiences. I learned from both of them. I'd [like] to go through the motions again this week."

And perhaps, at last, shove the burden of being majorless onto someone else's radar.

"I've had my chances, so that's one goal accomplished," Garcia said. "Now we have to try to get it to the next level. That's what we're here for, and that's what we work hard for.

"I think all these years have really made me mature and [allowed me] to even know myself better as a golfer and as a person, and kind of control myself even better when I'm coming down the stretch. We'll see if we can start achieving that . . .

"I'm hoping to put that to good use in the near future."

He's only 28. Then again, Woods is just 32, even if he is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery.

"I don't think too much about [his lack of major victories]," Garcia insisted. "I've tried to take a positive out of it. Like anybody else, my goal is to win tournaments, win majors, try to become the best player I can become and try to help people out there, make people happy. I think there's other players out there in a similar position to me. So it's a work in progress."

Always has been. For getting on close to a decade. Not that anyone's taking notes. *