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Garcia glad to be back

Emerging from slump, Spanish ace earned spot on Ryder Cup team

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MEDINAH, Ill. -- Sergio Garcia has never been so happy to lose a title.

Two years after a slump relegated him to the administrative role of vice captain at the Ryder Cup, Garcia is back where he belongs. His win at last month's Wyndham Championship earned him a spot on his sixth European team

"It was definitely a little bit of an inspiration to see your teammates playing and you not really being able to do much," Garcia said Wednesday. "So it definitely helped. I hope that it was one of the reasons why I'm here now."

Whatever the reasons, the Europeans are thrilled to have Garcia back out on the course.

Garcia may be a flop when it comes to the majors -- he pretty much owns that dreaded "Best Player Never to Win" title -- but he is perhaps the finest Ryder Cup player of his generation.

With 16 points in his previous five appearances, the 32-year-old is already ninth on Europe's all-time list. He needs only nine more points to catch leader Nick Faldo, which looks feasible considering he won at least three matches in each of his first four appearances.

He has Europe's third-best point percentage, and has played twice as many matches (14-6-4) as the two guys in front of him. (Ian Poulter is 9-2-0 and Luke Donald is 8-2-1.) He has never lost in foursomes.

"He's very passionate about the Ryder Cup," said Lee Westwood, the only European with more experience. "He gets stuck in."

Two years ago, however, Garcia was simply stuck.

Devastated by a breakup with Greg Norman's daughter, his game unraveled. After winning The Players Championship in November 2008, he went 21/2 years without a top-three finish. It would be almost three years before he'd win again, on either the PGA or European tours. His ranking, a career-best No. 2 in 2009, plunged as low as 85.

He didn't come close to qualifying for the 2010 Ryder Cup, and he knew Colin Montgomerie couldn't afford to waste one of his captain's picks on someone whose game was in total shambles. So he asked Montgomerie if he could be part of his staff -- a job normally reserved for golfers on the back side of their careers, not one who had just celebrated his 30th birthday.

"I think that made him realize how important it is to be a player in the team," current European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. "I remember his words when we were having a little chat a couple years ago, he said, 'If I knew this, I wouldn't have come' -- in the sense that he wanted to be playing."

Not that Garcia ever showed it. Garcia has the same passion for the Ryder Cup as Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros, and the event is one of the few occasions when he'll let down his guard and give a glimpse of the almost whimsical exuberance that made him so appealing as a teenager.

He made the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker as he bounded around Celtic Manor, cheering on all of European teams, offering advice to the rookies and relaying messages to Montgomerie and the other assistants.

When Graeme McDowell made a 15-foot birdie on the 16th hole to beat Hunter Mahan and give Europe the Ryder Cup for the fourth time in five meetings, Garcia was as elated as if he'd delivered the winning point.

"We achieved what we wanted to achieve that week, so it was very positive," he said. "But at the same time, I'd rather be on this side than on the other one."

Especially at Medinah, the site of his spectacular showdown with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 27, 2012 C7

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