HOYLAKE, England (AP) — Sergio Garcia doffed his cap, patted his heart and blew kisses to the crowd surrounding the 18th green at Royal Liverpool after clinching what ultimately would be a fourth second-place finish at a major.
Another close call on golf’s highest stage, but there were no tears or regrets this time.
Just pride at ensuring this was no runaway for winner Rory McIlroy at the British Open.
“Everyone looks at a second (place) and they want to make it a negative. Not at all,” Garcia said. “I did almost everything I could.”
Starting the final round seven shots back and in the next-to-last pairing, the 34-year-old Spaniard was the only player to take the challenge to McIlroy on Sunday and closed to within two strokes of him on four occasions over the back nine. The first time was at No. 10 when he sunk a 10-foot eagle putt, sparking a low fist pump from Garcia as McIlroy was waiting to take his second shot from the fairway.
Each time the pressure was on down the stretch, though, McIlroy was able to respond. Notably on the par fives that have been his strength all week.
“There was a better player,” Garcia said after his 6-under 66. “It’s as simple as that.”
After a final-round collapse at the Masters in 2012, Garcia virtually wrote off his chances of ever ending his major drought.
His second-place finishes at the PGA Championship in 1999 — when a brash, 19-year-old Garcia ran Tiger Woods close — and 2008, plus another at the British Open in 2007 following a playoff with Padraig Harrington, hit him hard. Garcia also had six other top-five placings in the majors by 2012, including a fifth at Royal Liverpool in 2006.
With that elusive major in sight once again, Garcia’s composure was striking Sunday. He gave three kids a high five on the way to the 15th tee. He barely acknowledged the roars that greeted any birdie from McIlroy behind him. He fed off the regular shouts of encouragement from the galleries, walking the course with a smile on his face.
“It looks like I’m finally growing up,” Garcia said.
Garcia knew there was no room for error if he was to reel in McIlroy and he had an outrageous piece of fortune on No. 12 when he pushed an approach shot right and into the grandstand. The ball rebounded off a metal railing and settled at the edge of the green. He made an up-and-down for par, kissed his ball and threw it into the grandstand.
“Come on Sergio, you can win it!” a female fan had cried out.
Garcia ran out of luck at the par-3 15th. His tee shot trickled into a greenside bunker and he took too much sand with his attempted escape, the ball hitting the wall of the bunker halfway down.
That bogey restored McIlroy’s three-shot lead and birdies by Garcia at Nos. 16 and 18 — both par fives — weren’t enough. He tied for second with Rickie Fowler, two shots behind McIlroy.
“It’s difficult when you’re in a situation where you know you can’t make a mistake,” Garcia said. “It just puts that little extra pressure.”
Being back contending at a major made Garcia feel alive, though, and he has renewed hope heading into next month’s PGA Championship at Valhalla.
“I try to look at the positives. And there’s always a lot more positives than negatives,” he said.
“Sunday in a tournament with the chance of winning, and in this case in a major championship at The Open, it’s always exciting. I was excited since I woke up this morning. There’s no better feeling.”
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