19-year-old Spanish phenom Sergio Garcia shakes British Open woes to shoot the best major score this year.
A storm blew through Medinah Country Club on Thursday afternoon, delaying the first round of the PGA Championship. "El Nino" followed.
Spain's Sergio Garcia, nicknamed El Nino when he made his first European PGA Tour cut at age 14, tied Medinah No. 3's competitive course record with 6-under-par 66 to take the first-round lead by two shots over Jay Haas, Mike Weir and J.P. Hayes.
On a day dominated by talk about next month's Ryder Cup and whether the participants should be compensated, Garcia made a statement of his own, perhaps proving his bad showing at the British Open was a fluke while earning a spot on the European team.
"It seemed like I had to prove something. Everybody kept asking about the Open," said Garcia, who opened the tournament last month at Carnoustie with an embarrassing 89, just two weeks after winning his first pro tournament. "The difference is here I played good. Everything went right. At the Open, everything went way wrong."
Garcia is 12th in the European Ryder Cup points standings, and a strong finish here would move him into the top 10 for automatic qualifiers. Even if he falls short, European captain Mark James would be hard-pressed not to pick him.
Of greater concern to Garcia is getting into position to win his first major championship.
At age 19, he is the youngest PGA Championship competitor since Gene Sarazen played in the tournament at age 19 in 1921. He also is the youngest player to lead.
But Garcia, much like another phenom named Tiger Woods, is hardly green. As an amateur, he played in 15 countries and won more than 70 tournaments. Although he didn't turn pro until finishing as the low amateur at the Masters in April, he's played in tour events for five years.
"I turned pro three months ago, but I've probably been playing as a pro for three years," he said. "I played in so many pro events as an amateur. I just didn't get paid."
Garcia won the Irish Open in just his sixth pro start; it took Woods five to win his first.
"I didn't think about all this stuff, but I knew I turned pro because I was playing well enough to turn pro," he said. "I knew I could win, but I didn't know I was going to do it so soon.
"But you have to realize, it is only the first round. There are still three more rounds to go."
Garcia got off to a solid start on the 7,401-yard Medinah course made considerably easier by on-and-off showers. The weather delayed play for nearly an hour, with Garcia facing a birdie putt on the 15th hole.
He barely missed that, but birdied two of the last three, including a 9-iron to 6 feet at the 18th for a closing 3.
Asked afterward about playing with Garcia, 54-year-old Hale Irwin said: "You mean my grandson? I can't remember when I was 19 years old. He played very well. He hit a lot of good shots."
"The course showed that under these conditions it can be had," said Tom Lehman, who opened with 70. "I don't really see it firming up significantly throughout the week. I think you're going to see a reasonably low-scoring PGA, considering how difficult the course is."
Lehman was one of 34 players under par for the first round, including Woods, David Duval and Nick Price, each with 70. Play was suspended due to darkness with 15 players on the course. They will finish their round this morning with the second round following.
Irwin, 54, the oldest player in the field and winner of the U.S. Open when it was played at Medinah in 1990, also shot 70.
"It's golf," said Irwin, the two-time Senior PGA Tour Player of the Year who has won five times this season on the senior circuit. "It's not a marathon. I'm not trying to get into a strength test, or a stamina test with them. I'm just trying to play golf. I still have a few skills that are there. I'm not throwing in the towel quite yet."