Saturday, June 15, 2013

ARDMORE, Pa. -- In case you haven't noticed, Sergio Garcia isn't having a swell week here at Merion.

Garcia has apologized in press conferences, and he's left Tiger Woods a note and shaken his hand, but fans are not yet ready to let the Spaniard live down the offensive fried-chicken remark he directed at Woods at a dinner on May 21. On Saturday afternoon, the 33-year-old was heckled with "fried chicken" on his opening tee shot at the par-4 11th. You can see that one here:

He took the catcall in stride and plodded along, making a couple of bogeys in his first four holes, when disaster struck at the par-4 15th. That hole is tricky -- there's out-of-bounds just left of the fairway, along with a narrow path for spectators to line up along the ropes and get a good long look at the players. Garcia made a quadruple-bogey 8 there on Thursday. On Saturday, he snapped three straight tee shots O.B. and made a big, ugly 10.

This week the fans haven't been quite as rough as those who attended the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, when Garcia was fighting a bad case of the waggles and the crowd let him have it. I caught up with the member of the local police force who's tagging along with Garcia inside the ropes this week. It was reported Thursday that Garcia was given the chance to have hecklers ejected from the course, but Garcia declined. On Saturday afternoon, after the latest chicken-insult and the 10 that brought some more grief, I found the officer and asked if any fans had been booted for taunting Sergio. "No," he said flatly. It was a nice talk.

Things didn't get much easier for Garcia. After the 10, he appeared to mope for a bit, but two holes later he was smiling and chatting with his playing partners, Rickie Fowler and Robert Karlsson. On Merion's famed 18th hole, the one with Ben Hogan's plaque in the center of the fairway, fans can line the ropes from tee to green, and there's a big, bright concession stand just a few steps away. This week they're selling Budweiser for $6.50. (For the refined fan, there's Beringer wine for one extra dollar.) As Sergio trudged up the fairway, one fan clutching a cup of beer hollered, "Sergio! Como estas?" A few moments later, another cracked, "Sergio! You're nothing!" That guy had a beer in his hand, too. Sergio didn't break stride.

As Garcia lined up a long birdie putt on the 18th green, just a short chip shot away Phil Mickelson teed off on No. 1 in front a boisterous crowd that roared its adoration and support. Garcia glanced in Mickelson's direction before missing his putt. The throng of happy Mickelson fans were out of earshot by the time Garcia tapped in for par, dropped his head and marched on to his next shot.

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