GULLANE, Scotland -- Sergio Garcia learned some important lessons as he waggled his way through an eventful few days last month on Bethpage Black.
They went something like this:
- New York fans can be boisterous, but that's no excuse for flashing them an obscene gesture.
- Tiger Woods does get some breaks, but he makes most of his own so don't whine about it.
- When Woods flies a divot into a deep bunker, don't bother jumping in it to retrieve it for him. And never, ever, try to engage Woods in conversation on Sunday afternoon, unless, of course, he has already clinched the U.S. Open.
With those lessons safely digested, Garcia may finally be able to do what he does best in the British Open this week - play the kind of golf that could deny Woods his bid at golf's Grand Slam.
"I learned a lot of things. I think I've matured a lot, I became a lot stronger and it was a great experience," Garcia said. "I was playing for a major and I was trying my best. Unfortunately, things didn't work out, but I'm getting there."
Garcia went through a tumultuous two days at Bethpage, much of it through his own making, before finally finishing in fourth place, six strokes behind Woods.
It was enough to make him take a few weeks off, to get some rest and work on reducing the incessant waggling before shots that New York fans took such delight in mocking.
"I just needed to take some time off from golf," Garcia said.
Garcia drew the ire of New York fans not only for his waggling, but for making an obscene gesture at one as he struggled to a 74 in Friday's second round. He compounded his error by suggesting afterward that Woods was in the lead because he given preferential tee times and other breaks.
Garcia would leave a note of apology in Woods' locker the next day, but the damage was done.
A brilliant 67 in the third round got Garcia in the final group with Woods on Sunday, but his efforts to interest Woods in a friendly match on the final day didn't work as well.
After Woods 3-putted the first two holes, Garcia tried to urge his ball toward the cup in the third hole and tried to talk to Woods, who didn't respond. On the next hole, Garcia went into a fairway bunker to get a divot left by Woods, who was already striding toward the green and didn't even notice.
Woods, in fact, refused to look at Garcia when he hit the ball, and it wasn't until he had already wrapped up the tournament that he chatted amiably with Garcia walking down the 16th fairway.
"I was playing the way I always play," Garcia said. "He was great and we had a lot of fun. With all the pressure that was involved on it, it was good. I really enjoyed it and actually can't wait to put myself in that same position again and hopefully come in on top next time."
If Garcia wants to do that, he couldn't pick a better place than Muirfield, where he won the British Amateur only four years ago.
Though he complained Tuesday that his ball striking isn't up to par, the 22-year-old clearly relishes the chance to quiet the criticism that Woods has no real challengers and step up to deny him yet another major championship.
"I think that it's just a matter of time when somebody comes out and gets rid of it and makes everybody believe," Garcia said.
Garcia, who regularly regripped the club 20 times or more at Bethpage before finally swinging, was clearly stung by the crowd's reaction to his unusual habit.
At times, the crowd would count together the number of waggles before Garcia finally hit.
"More than anything, I'm just trying to feel comfortable with the ball and if I don't feel quite as comfortable with the ball, that's where the waggles or regrips come, whatever you want to call it," he said. "If I feel comfortable with the ball, it's no problem, that's more or less what I've been working on."
So, can less waggles turn into one major championship? Garcia certainly has shown he can play with Woods, but he has yet to show he can beat him.
Of course, he's still only 22, four years younger than Woods, and with a lot of major championships ahead of him.
"Looking at the best side of the worse thing is, although I haven't won a major yet, I have top tens in all of them and I'm only 22 years old," Garcia said. "So it's not too bad, and hopefully I can start getting closer and closer to a victory."
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