Sergio hopes to keep a stiff upper lip

Sergio hopes to keep a stiff upper lip

Sergio Garcia shot 89-83 at the Open in 1999.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland — Eight years ago, when 19-year-old Sergio Garcia came to the British Open, he was being heralded as Europe’s answer to Tiger Woods. He had been a pro for just three months but had already won the Irish Open and finished runner-up to Colin Montgomerie at the Scottish Open.

Yet Carnoustie had turned into Carnasty, and it broke the teenager’s heart. “The players were talking about it, the media were talking about it, and as a youngster it gets to you,” Garcia, now 27, admitted. “That’s what I was thinking about when I teed off.”

He shot 89-83, finished last and cried on his mother’s shoulder.

“It was the unfairness that got to me last time, not the toughness,” he said. “Oakmont last month was the toughest course I think I’ve ever played, but it was fair. Carnoustie in 1999 wasn’t.”

A month after the 1999 Open, Garcia finished second to Woods in the PGA Championship at Medinah, and a first major victory seemed just around the bend. But today, despite 12 top 10s, he has no major wins. That bend has turned into an 0-for-32 major freeway. Garcia is looking forward to a fairer test this year.

“In ’99, it got a bit out of hand,” he said. “But, this year, it’s a different course. I would love to see it playing fast and firm like last year in Liverpool. But it doesn’t look like it is going to be that way. The rain is not helping. If we don’t get some wind, the scores are going to be very low. It’s going to be easy to get to the fairways. And we are going to be able to stop it quite easily on the greens, too.”

In an attempt to cure his continuing putting wobbles, Garcia has taken refuge in the belly putter — the best friend of senior golfers with bad backs and the yips.

“It feels comfortable, and I keep getting some confidence out of it,” he said. “I think it gets a little tougher if the wind blows because you have to stand up a bit taller.”

Garcia probably also knows that no one has ever won a major while brandishing a belly butter. That makes the European drought in the majors, which dates back to Paul Lawrie in the infamous ’99 Open, seem insignificant.

“I’d love to be the one to win it,” he said. “But if it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world. Hopefully, by the end of the week, a European will be on top.”

And hopefully Garcia won’t be crying on his mother’s shoulder again on Friday.