Sergio Garcia's major streak near end?
The subject is not one he embraces but something Sergio Garcia believes is overblown. He took two months off last year. Big deal.
Except it is when you are talking about one of the game's most gifted, if not accomplished, players.
As recently as March 2009, the Spaniard was ranked second in the world. Now he is on the outside looking in as the U.S. Open approaches next month at Congressional, a long streak of major championship starts in jeopardy.
Taking that break from golf after the PGA Championship, however, is hard to ignore. The idea was to recapture some of his love for the game, one that had become frustrating through what is now a three-year stretch without a victory on the PGA Tour.
"I think that it's important for me to realize those things, and at the end of the day, try to enjoy what I do, which is playing golf," Garcia said at the time. "I've always done it, and unfortunately, lately it hasn't been that way."
Whether it is now remains the subject of debate.
Garcia had fallen out of the top 50 in the world, failed to make the European Ryder Cup team and seemed disinterested. Although he served as a vice-captain and cheerleader for the European team in Wales, he has not returned with the same vigor.
At least that is the sense you get in talking to him. Garcia, a seven-time winner on the PGA Tour (he also has 11 international victories) did not play his first PGA Tour event until March. Although he's had two top-10 finishes around the world since his return (one in Europe, one in the U.S.), the fire still seems to be missing.
"I've said all year long, it's a work in progress," Garcia said. "It's building up. Any good round helps. I'm trying to get things the right way for four rounds. There have been a lot of good things."
But not very many great things. Garcia talks about his golf in matter-of-fact tones, without much enthusiasm. He seems to have more fun discussing soccer or tennis, other sports for which he has a passion, both recreationally and as a spectator.
Bob Harig's mailbag
Who will get off to a fast start to the 2012 PGA Tour season? Should the tour change how it opens the season? Drop ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig a line, and he'll respond to some of the best questions. Ask Harig a question
At one point this year, Garcia had dropped to a low of 82nd in the world. He climbed back up to 74th heading into The Players Championship, where a T-12 finish only moved him up one spot.
Being ranked 73rd in the world is significant because he needs to be among the top 50 as of May 23 or June 13 to gain automatic entry into the U.S. Open. He could also make it if he were among the top 10 on the PGA Tour money list by May 23; he is 78th.
With that in mind, Garcia is entered in this week's Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and next week's HP Byron Nelson Championship with the hopes of playing well enough to move into the top 50.
"That would be the best thing … not to worry about it," Garcia said.
If he doesn't make the top 50, Garcia's only other way into the U.S. Open at Congressional would be to go through 36-hole sectional qualifying, which takes place June 6. As of now, Garcia is not interested.
"I don't think so," he said. "If I don't qualify [through the rankings], then I don't deserve to play."
Perhaps that is Garcia's way of bearing down, of forcing himself to concentrate on these next few tournaments with goal of making it on his own.
Then again, he is not exempt for the British Open, either, and said he would take part in a 36-hole qualifier for the Open to be played at Royal St. George's. That qualifier will take place May 23 in Texas between the Colonial and Nelson tournaments.
A U.S. Open qualifier would be two weeks after that, and Garcia will surely be reminded that just two years ago, Lucas Glover endured sectional qualifying to make the field at Bethpage Black and went on to win the tournament. In 2008, Rocco Mediate had to go through sectional qualifying and lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods.
Follow On Twitter
Want great insight into the game of golf in 140 characters or fewer? Follow @BobHarig.
Also at stake is Garcia's major championship streak, which dates to the Open Championship at Carnoustie in 1999, where he began the tournament with an 89. A month later, he was in contention at the PGA Championship, finishing second to Woods, destined to win multiple majors.
His first major victory has yet to occur, close calls at the 2007 British Open and 2008 PGA Championship seeming long ago.
And if Garcia is not at Congressional, his streak of majors will end at 47.
"I don't care about the streak," he said. "I don't care about records and things like that. I worry about enjoying it and doing what I love and doing the best I can. I'm not going to look back when I'm 55 and say I should have tried to play 100 million in a row instead of 99."
Then again, you can't win if you don't play -- something that might drive him to keep the streak going.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
MORE GOLF HEADLINES
- Tiger fires 68 to begin defense of Firestone title
- Leishman's 64 good for 1-shot Bridgestone lead
- Dustin Johnson takes leave from PGA Tour
- Mickelson dealing with strep at Bridgestone
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
2011 U.S. OPEN
Course: Congressional CC, Blue Course
Where: Bethesda, Md.
Yardage, par: 7,574 yards, par-71