Garcia opens PGA Tour season as defending Mercedes champ

Thursday, January 9, 2003

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 of all.

"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 today 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.

Woods is out. Phil Mickelson, No. 2 in the world, is taking time off. David Duval, David Toms and Davis Love III didn't qualify because they didn't win last season.

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 Woods.

"I just hope he takes his time getting better," Charles Howell III said.

Garcia has been nipping at Woods' heels ever since he stole the show -- and almost the trophy -- from Woods in the 1999 PGA Championship.

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 Mickelson.

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.

No majors on resume

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 tour member.

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 for me."

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 tours?

"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?"

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