This is your chance, Sergio
HOYLAKE, England -- OK, Sergio Garcia, this is your chance.
Your chance to finally deliver on seven years of tease. Your chance to prove that there is life after the "El Nino" days, after the leaping leg kick at Medinah in 1999, when you chased Tiger Woods to the wire in the PGA Championship and convinced everyone you'd be The Challenger to The Chosen One. Your chance to show that your tournament golf career didn't peak at age 19, leaving everything thereafter to reek of unfulfilled potential.
"I can only tell you it was the best week of my life," you said then.
From a golf standpoint, that statement remains true.
Sunday has always been Tiger's day, and rarely yours. Time to do something about that, if you want to shed a label that's getting stickier with every passing major. Charisma is a wonderful thing for an athlete to have, and you've definitely got it -- but it's best when packaged with some substance.
You'll be walking side by side across Royal Liverpool with Woods. He's got you by a single skinny stroke after Saturday but you've got the momentum, boosted by a course-record-tying 65 Saturday while Woods wobbled to a 71.
"What a wonderful round of golf," Woods said of your handiwork. "Tomorrow it will be fun for both of us to go out there and try to win the Open Championship."
There are half a dozen players in contention after Woods left the door open, but only one gets to look Tiger in the eye and match swings with him. That would be you, Sergio.
You've been a match-play stud in the Ryder Cup, but this is different. You've performed well in many majors (nine top-10 finishes), but this is different.
And you know it.
This is the challenge you've wanted, ever since you appeared as the challenger we wanted in '99. The other players we've tried to establish as legitimate rivals to Woods -- David Duval, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen -- are older than Tiger, who is 30. At 26, you're part of the generation of golfers who came up bombing like Woods -- and gunning for Woods.
But this is also a challenge you flunked the last time you had it. In the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, you were paired with Tiger in the final round, after squawking about him receiving preferential treatment earlier in the tournament, when you had to play through heavy rain.
"If you get the luck of getting the good side of the draw, like somebody seems to do in these kind of tournaments, and you're the best player in the world and you make a lot of putts, everything works," you carped. "It's tough to beat a guy when things are going [like that].
"If Tiger Woods would have been out there, I think it would have been called."
That Sunday you had the same conditions to play in. Down four strokes, you shot 74 and lost to Woods by six.
That wasn't a fair fight, given the deficit after three rounds. This one will be contested on more level ground.
"I think what I'm going to do tomorrow is go out there and try to do the same things [as Saturday]," you said after the 65. "Just enjoy it as much as possible, just try to commit to all my shots if I can, and whatever happens. ... We love being in this position."
Truth is, this position hasn't always been enjoyable for you, Sergio. Three rounds of excellent golf have too rarely translated to an excellent fourth. There has been too much Sunday slippage. Too many potential breakthroughs that turned into breakdowns.
There was the 2001 U.S. Open at Southern Hills, where you began the final round one back and shot 77, helping Retief Goosen to his first major. There was the final-round 74 while in contention in this tournament at Royal St. George's in 2003, opening the door for somebody named Ben Curtis to win a major. There was a backslide from four back to seven back last year in the Open at St. Andrews. There was a Sunday 78 in this year's Players Championship, the unofficial fifth major, after entering the day trailing by one stroke.
Your PGA Tour Sunday scoring average this year is 74. Of the six golfers beginning Sunday within two shots of the lead, that's easily the worst.
Now you've got to overcome that while paired with a confirmed finisher.
There will be pressure, external and internal. Spain has been waiting for you to fully assume the role of heir to Ballesteros and Olazabal. The supportive galleries here will have high expectations for you (chicks dig the long ball, not to mention the tight sky-blue pants you wore Saturday). And on the inside, you have to prove to yourself that an arduous maturation process -- through obsessive waggling tics and putting issues -- is complete.
Most of all, you have to prove you're ready to beat Tiger. The pairing sparked plenty of reminiscence about 1999.
"He was playing in the group in front of me, so I had a chance to watch and see what he was doing," Woods said of that Sunday round at Medinah. "He was playing beautifully on that back nine. He got himself right there in contention, I made a couple of mistakes, and all of a sudden I had a one-shot lead.
"But he played really well. I think he was only 19 at the time. That's awfully impressive to be that young and have a chance to win a major championship."
That PGA was sufficiently stirring that at the turn of the century, this very Web site predicted that Woods-Garcia would be the No. 2 rivalry of the future in all of sports.
Guess who hasn't lived up to his end of the bargain? Twenty-six majors have slid by since then with somebody else holding the hardware. "El Nino" has grown up and become "El Hombre" -- but Tiger Woods remains The Man.
"We could all see that he had the talent to win major championships," Woods said. "It's just a matter of putting it all together at the right time."
No time like the present, Sergio. This is your latest, greatest chance.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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135th British Open Championship
Where: Royal Liverpool GC
Yardage/Par: 7,258 yards; par 72
2006 champion: Tiger Woods
Purse: $7,490,400 (Winner: $1,338,480)
• Forde: Open win Tiger's ultimate tribute to Earl
• Sobel: Tiger changes his stripes
• Sirak: Tiger wins one for Pops
• Sobel: Tiger will break Jack's record
• Harig: Fellow contenders wilt in Tiger's presence
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Round 4 highlights
• Tiger talks about the win
• Tirico, Faldo, Azinger analysis
• British Open final hole marred by demonstrators
• Final-round recap
• Forde: This is your chance, Sergio
• Harig: Great leaderboard gives Hoylake acceptance
• Sirak: Tiger leaves the door open
• Sobel: What each contender needs to do (and avoid)
• British Open Round 3 highlights
• Tiger talks about his lead
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Third-round recap
• Forde: The Claret Jug is Tiger's
• Sobel: Tiger's talent breeds luck on 14th hole eagle
• Harig: Els chasing Woods ... again
• Forde: DiMarco climbs leaderboard with heavy heart
• Photo galleries: ESPN.com | GD.com
• Round 2 highlights
• Tiger talks about his round
• Sobel: Round 2 analysis
• Second-round recap
• Forde: Tiger may have Open in the bag
• Forde: Early leaderboard a veritable United Nations of golfers
• Harig: Ballesteros conjures images of yesteryear
• ESPN.com Round 1 photo gallery
• First-round recap
• British Open leaderboard
• On the Tee at the 2006 British Open
• Woods, Faldo in same grouping
• British Open field
• British Open past champions