KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Sergio Garcia's goals remain the same, no
matter how lofty they seem. He wants to win major championships and
become the first player with money titles on both sides of the Atlantic.
That means beating Tiger Woods, which might be the loftiest goal
''I think he's a great player. He's probably going to be one of
the best players ever,'' Garcia said. ''Hopefully, I'll try to make
that not possible.''
Garcia won't have to worry about Woods for a while.
When the PGA Tour season starts Thursday at the winners-only
Mercedes Championships, Woods will be home in Florida
rehabilitating his left knee from surgery that will keep him out
for at least the first five tournaments.
That doesn't matter to Garcia, the defending champion at
Kapalua. There are plenty of other tough players in the field, even
if the Spaniard doesn't recognize many of them.
In their place are 18 first-time winners, which constitutes half
of the Mercedes field. The turnover was so great that only eight of
this year's entrants were at Kapalua in 2002.
Whoever they are, they will be chasing a $1 million prize, the
first of 12 tournaments that pays at least $1 million to the winner
under the new four-year television contract.
And at some point this year, they probably will be chasing
''I just hope he takes his time getting better,'' Charles Howell
Garcia has been nipping at Woods' heels ever since he stole the
show -- and almost the trophy -- from Woods in the 1999 PGA
Their battles have been rare, but entertaining. The last one
that mattered came in the U.S. Open at Bethpage, where Woods
knocked Garcia out early and cruised to a three-stroke victory over
Still, Garcia doesn't pay homage to Woods like some players. He
doesn't think it's a lock that Woods will win a record fifth
straight money title. Garcia sees no reason why he can't replace
Woods as No. 1 in the world.
''I know what I've got to do,'' said Garcia, who turns 23 on
Thursday. ''I know what my goals are, what I want to achieve.''
He better get moving.
The 27-year-old Woods has won eight majors, Garcia none.
Woods has won the PGA Tour money title the last four years and
would have won the Order of Merit twice if he had been a European
Garcia never has finished higher than sixth on the PGA Tour, and
he was third on the European tour Order of Merit in 1999, when he
was a 19-year-old rookie with no fear and plenty of game.
He still has no fear -- especially when it comes to Woods.
''I don't think I'm going to give him more credit than he
deserves,'' Garcia said. ''He's a wonderful player, but that's it
Garcia looked like he was ready to assume the role as Woods'
chief rival last year, especially when he closed with a 9-under 64
in the final round and made two birdies on the 18th hole at Kapalua
-- one to get into a playoff, the other to defeat Toms.
That was his only PGA Tour victory of the year, and he had only
two other decent chances at winning -- a tie for fourth at The
Players Championship, and fourth in the U.S. Open. Even so, he was
the only player to finish in the top 10 at every major.
What makes Garcia think this year will be any different? How can
someone expect to conquer Woods while dividing his time between two
''You just do better in the right places, win as many as you
can,'' Garcia said. ''Tiger is playing 18 tournaments a year and
he's winning. Why not?''
It all begins to unfold on the Plantation Course that winds
along cliffs above the rugged coast of western Maui, an idyllic
start to the season.
Garcia is the youngest of the next crop of stars, even though
this is his fifth year on tour. He was among five players under 25
who won on the PGA Tour last year, a list that includes Howell,
Jonathan Byrd and Matt Kuchar.
Most of the attention on the young Americans centers on Howell,
the former NCAA champion at Oklahoma State who broke through at the
Michelob Championship and was the runner-up to Vijay Singh at the
season-ending Tour Championship.
Howell also has said he wants to be No. 1, although his
immediate goals are more modest than Garcia's.
''Top five on the money list,'' he said. ''That's a fair goal,
and a good goal. And I want to win two tournaments. It all kind of
comes when you least expect it.''
This would be an ideal place for him to start.
Howell made his first trip to Kapalua in 2001 to get married,
although he brought his golf clubs with him. In fact, he played
three times in four days.
''I took the day off when I got married,'' he said.
Back to work, everyone.