Medinah's expansive locker room was nearly deserted when 19-year-old Sergio Garcia finally saw a replay of the Shot. No need to identify which shot. For millions of television viewers and anyone following the young Spaniard in person on that memorable final nine of the PGA Championship last month, the Shot need be identified only by the hole on which it was struck: 16.
His drive had nestled at the base of an oak, leaving Garcia, who had closed to within a stroke of a faltering Tiger Woods, 189 yards, two protruding roots and a 30-yard slice away from the green. Jail? The sagacious heads in the television booth were worried about hospital if Garcia attempted to cut a six-iron to the flag from that nasty nook. If he didn't whiff, a broken club and a broken wrist seemed likely. For his part, Garcia thought the worst-case scenario was an 8: ball hits tree and caroms off his body for a two-stroke penalty.
"What do you think?" he asked his veteran caddie, Jerry Higginbotham.
"Lay up and try to make par," Higginbotham sensibly advised.
Garcia, being 19, bulletproof and supremely talented, ignored the advice. There's an expression in Spanish for the way he plays: Suerte o muerte. Luck or death. And this was not Sergio's day to die.
Hours later, in the company of a half-dozen green-uniformed janitors, two locker room attendants and Garcia's friend and business agent, Jose Marquina, the golfing sensation known as El Niño had his first opportunity to see what everyone else had seen that day—what inspired tens of thousands of spectators to chant, "SER-GEE-O! SER-GEE-O!!" until it made the hairs on his father's neck stand on end: the tortured moments of indecision, the tentative address, then the desperate kill-the-snake slash with eyes shut and body falling away. "Loco, loco" Garcia commented as the tape replayed his madcap dash up the fairway and his boyish leap to try to follow the ball's improbable, bending flight.
As the replay showed the ball settling onto the green, the Medinah janitors erupted in cheers. They patted the kid on the back, congratulated him in Spanish and posed with him for pictures, their arms draped casually around his narrow shoulders, like long-lost friends. Unfazed, Garcia smiled shyly, with a winning mixture of humility and pride. No question about it: There'd been two winners on that final day of the final major of the 20th century. Three if you counted golf. As a locker room attendant said to the kid after watching the replay of a deeply relieved Woods tapping in his final putt, "He beat you, but you wore his ass out."
Not for the last time, according to most experts. Even Woods has observed that Garcia has more game at 19 than he had at the same age, and Garcia has said he'd love nothing better than to be paired against Woods in this Sunday's singles matches of the Ryder Cup, which is scheduled to start on Friday at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. There isn't a golf fan breathing who won't feel cheated if that doesn't happen. "They have a lot in common," says Marquina, who heads Sergio's support group—management team, which was formed when Sergio was 15 and includes a business manager, a doctor, a trainer and an English tutor. Marquina has known the young prodigy since Sergio was six. "Both Sergio and Tiger started playing when they were three, both were famous amateurs when they were young, and both have the same attitude, the same determination to be Number 1."
For all his talent, though, Woods is not the warmest of personalities. No knock against him. Most of the great ones are so intent on getting the ball into the hole that they appear insular and aloof. "The great players all have a degree of concentration, a determination, that separates them from the good ones," says Artie McNickle, director of golf at La Gorce Country Club in Miami Beach—Marquina's home club and also Garcia's home course when he comes to the U.S. In the '70s and '80s, McNickle spent 10 years on the PGA Tour, and the first time he played with Garcia, the kid reminded him of a young Tom Watson.
"I call it, well, it's unprintable what I call it," McNickle says. "But in effect they'd step on the throat of their own mother to win. Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Watson—they all had it. But of those who had it, only Palmer also had the ability to endear himself to you. That's rare. It's too early to say for sure, but Sergio may have both."