James Lawton: Sergio Garcia cracks as major fault line with Tiger Woods opens up again
One way or another, Sergio Garcia has been picking a fight with Tiger Woods for 14 years now but he doesn't seem to learn, does he? Some guys don't only have your number, they can pretty much claim outright ownership.
For the 33-year-old Spaniard this forlorn reality hit a new low when he was required to make a swift, albeit extremely lame, apology for the kind of insult which Woods handled with quite nonchalant authority on the occasion of his first US Masters victory as a 21-year-old in 1997.
The culprit then was former title-holder Fuzzy Zoeller, who warned the first black victor at Augusta not to offer fried chicken, collard greens or whatever the hell else his people served at the following year's champions dinner.
In Zoeller's case the cost was some dire humiliation and the loss of some significant sponsorship. For Garcia the price is nothing so much as the reminder that if his career, for all its periodically dazzling attributes and $28m worth of prize winnings, has become an agony of elusive fulfilment, no one is ever more likely or equipped to remind him of this more forcibly than the Tiger.
There is still a lively debate about how seriously, if at all, Woods offended golfing etiquette shortly before Garcia imploded so wretchedly in his company at the recent Players Championship in Sawgrass.
But then what we do know for sure is that trying to get the better of the Tiger, on or off the course, is once again looking like the last word in futility as far as Garcia is concerned.
At Augusta last month there was a strong body of opinion that the decent thing for Woods to do was withdraw after signing his card for a round in which he admitted he had broken the rules.
When this possibility was put to his entourage it might have been a submission from an alien planet. Now Garcia has been savaged, once again, by the remorseless Tiger.
Zoeller's face-to-face apology was accepted, though quite chillily, by Woods, but judging by some of Garcia's comments in the last 24 hours a similar accommodation between the two men seems distinctly unlikely.
Garcia said: "You can't like everybody. I think there are people that you can connect with and there are people that you don't. You know it's pretty much as simple as that. I think that he doesn't need me in his life and I don't need him in mine and let's move on and keep doing what we're doing."
The poignancy is that Woods has been doing it so much better in all those years since Garcia briefly charmed the American golf world as a 19-year-old who finished as top amateur in the Masters and who later in the year skipped and jumped down the Medinah fairway to see where his miracle shot from behind a tree had landed.
It had rolled up to the green and given him much momentum on his way to finishing second, by one shot, to the Tiger in the US PGA. But if he delighted many of his countrymen, he didn't thrill the Tiger.
The kid was an upstart presuming too much in Woods' own newly won empire and that impression was underlined when he appeared to be directly challenging the new status of the world's No 1 golfer, not least when Garcia cockily celebrated a skins victory over Woods.
The old hand Fred Couples quickly mimicked Garcia's exuberant run from behind the tree. The Tiger simply exacted career-long revenge, reflected hugely enough before that Sawgrass incident with a 14-0 lead in major titles.
Now the worry must be that Garcia is destined to rival his old Ryder Cup team-mate and captain Colin Montgomerie as one of the best golfers never to win a major. The fault line, the great betrayer, has long been apparent on the greens, a fact which led him to a brief flirtation with the belly-putter, now surely heading for extinction.
It means, as the years since all that remarkable promise begin to ebb away, that any solution to his most basic problem of confidence at the majors must come from somewhere deep in his own embattled psyche.
Back in that mostly glittering year of '99 – he also laid the foundation of a fine Ryder Cup record with three and a half points won in the company of Jesper Parnevik in the maelstrom of the battle of Brookline – Garcia shot a first-round 89 at the Open at Carnoustie and wept in the arms of his mother.
A few months later at Brookline, he reacted angrily to a question about the dénouement at Carnoustie, holding up his arms in disbelief as he turned to his team-mate and compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal.
It was a gentle enough enquiry about how it was he had recovered so brilliantly, so strongly, from a day that might just have broken a less resilient and precocious spirit. Maybe the problem with the question was that it was somewhat premature.