Sergio Garcia bids to extend Spain's golden summer by adding The Open's Claret Jug to Green Jacket
The more sugar, the sweeter it is. So translates a Spanish saying of which Sergio Garcia, in his sweetest year, is especially fond. The Masters champion likes to speak idiomatically, not least when likening the challenge of winning more majors to a “knife with two blades”. Or when describing a choice between a Green Jacket and a Claret Jug as “like saying, who do you love more, your dad or your mum?” Facing journalists at an Open is not traditionally Garcia’s favourite pastime. After shooting an 89 at Carnoustie in 1999, he could barely talk, instead weeping openly in his mother’s arms at the embarrassment of it all. But these days he typifies the exquisite contentment of a man who, through his triumph at Augusta, has fulfilled his lifetime’s quest. Last week, he was in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, wearing a Green Jacket that blended seamlessly with the All England Club’s colours. Next week, he is marrying Angela Akins, his Texan fiancee and a former Golf Channel presenter who has been crucial in his recent resurgence. This is a golden summer, not merely for Garcia but for Spanish sport. Quite apart from Rafael Nadal achieving La Decima at Roland Garros, or Garbine Muguruza winning Wimbledon, his compatriots are cutting a swathe across the links. Jon Rahm lifted the Irish Open title, Rafael Cabrera-Bello the Scottish, and now Garcia has a chance this week to complete an Iberian hat-trick here in sun-kissed Southport. “It’s very exciting to see guys you’re friendly with, fellow countrymen, doing great things,” he said. “We’re going to try to keep it going as much as possible.” Sergio Garcia won his first Masters title in April Garcia has a formidable Open pedigree, as he underlined a few miles south along the Merseyside coast in 2014, when he kept even Rory McIlroy in his sights until the final holes at Hoylake. Mindful of his position among the favourites at Royal Birkdale, he promised, irrespective of his impending nuptials, to keep his eyes on the prize. “My mind is on the Open, don’t worry,” he said, laughing. “It’s going to be where it needs to be. Angela has been doing a great job of getting everything ready for the wedding.” The historical precedents are not auspicious, with those who savour glory at Augusta far from guaranteed to translate such form to the Open. Of the past 30 Masters winners, just four – Sir Nick Faldo in 1990, Mark O’Meara on this very course in 1998, and the matchless Tiger Woods in 2005 – have gone on to clasp the Claret Jug. Since Woods’ victory at St Andrews 12 years ago, a mere two, Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, have even finished in the top 15. Garcia is not best poised, if the wild winds in which he has often struggled re-emerge as forecast for later this week, to buck the trend. Even after his most popular and cathartic of Masters breakthroughs, Garcia still cannot shake references to his many near-misses. Between Carnoustie 2007 and Royal Liverpool seven years later, where he was runner-up both times, which opportunity would he most like to have back? “I’ve always said that consistency has been one of my greatest attributes throughout my career,” he shrugged. “Of course, I could have won more, but I think the record I have put together over the last 18 or 19 years is not easy to do. Some people overlook that.” Garcia's fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal won the French Open last month The ghosts of 2007, when Garcia was vanquished by Padraig Harrington to stoke a decade-long enmity, have, he assured, been tamed. For years, the pair were implacable adversaries, with the Irishman acknowledging that he only spoke to his rival “through gritted teeth”, because he was put off by a “very sore loser”. They forged a rapprochement at McIlroy’s wedding in County Mayo recently, although Garcia highlighted yesterday the distinctions between them. “With all due respect, if I tried to be like Harrington, it would probably not work out for me,” he said. “Our personalities are totally different. The patience he has clearly helps. We are all hard workers, but he is perhaps even more so.” When Garcia was growing up in rural Castellon in the Eighties, the Open, even allowing for the dazzling feats of Seve Ballesteros, was on network television only intermittently. Thirty years on, Spain appears to have perfected a form of golfing alchemy. “The weather helps,” he said. “But it’s the combination of talent we have managed to produce, too, and the passion, the charisma we have. Mix those three things together, even though we are not the biggest golf country, and it all works out.” Basking in conditions more akin to Sotogrande than Southport, he seemed only too happy to carry the flame.