HOYLAKE, England -- Sergio Garcia is a half-dozen shots behind a world-beating front-runner, Rory McIlroy, with a weekend to go at Royal Liverpool, which means Garcia is finally in perfect position to win a big one. Why?
Because at 34, after accumulating three lifetimes' worth of major championship scar tissue, Garcia is never going to win one the conventional way, holding the lead and managing the emotional burdens attached to it. That's why.
Garcia would surely collapse on cue in that position, his ghosts and gremlins far too stubborn to quell. So he'll need something bizarre to happen to leave behind the Lee Westwoods and Colin Montgomeries -- recent contenders for the unwanted title of BPWAM (Best Player Without a Major) -- and do what everyone thought he was poised to do as that little boy behind a tree at Medinah.
Sergio became Sergio that day in 1999, a teenager who would chase Tiger Woods across his prime the way Lee Trevino and Tom Watson chased Jack Nicklaus across parts of his. Garcia stood behind that tree, closed his eyes, hit an absurd shot that opened ours, then did his scissors-kick thing.
Hello, world. Garcia finished second at that PGA Championship and you could've made a killing in Vegas the next morning if you bet 50 bucks that he'd never finish higher than that in a major.
In fact, your sportsbook of choice might have paid off the bet two years ago at Augusta National, where Garcia lost the green jacket (he finished tied for 12th) before grabbing the white flag.
"I'm not good enough," he said of winning majors. "I don't have the thing I need to have. ... In 13 years I've come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place."
In case anyone missed his point, Garcia added this: "I had my chances and opportunities and I wasted them. I have no more options. I wasted my options."
A star athlete has rarely made such a candid concession speech, but hey, Garcia could take no more. He'd endured too many bad bounces, faceless workers taking too long to rake bunkers, and mystical forces that conspired against him.
No, his opponents weren't just made of flesh and blood. "I'm playing against a lot of guys out there," he said after losing a playoff to Padraig Harrington at Carnoustie seven years ago. "More than the field."
No player who has said and done these things is qualified to take a big lead at one of the Grand Slam events, then protect it all the way to the house. No chance.
It will take some unscripted drama, game-changing weather, maybe an unexpected gift from the golf gods who have allegedly rooted against him. McIlroy broke off his engagement to Caroline Wozniacki over the phone? Maybe Rory deserves one of those bad Garcia bounces this time.
McIlroy, 25, has already won a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship, both by eight-shot margins. Garcia acknowledged Friday that the kid is a great player, but added: "When it plays tough like this, anything can happen out there. So we'll see."
Garcia had just backed up his 4-under 68 with a 2-under 70, and backed it up in style. Just as he did at Hoylake in 2006, Garcia holed out at No. 2 for eagle. He used a 9-iron with the wind from 175 yards in '06, and a 6-iron against the wind from 162 yards Friday.
He spoke of summoning sweet Royal Liverpool memories, and of the love he always feels from the Open Championship crowds. "It's great to be able to feel that," Garcia said. "I'm going to do my best to try to win for myself, but also for them. They deserve it."
Though he owns top-5 finishes in every major, Garcia has more top-10s in the Open Championship (seven) than at any of the other three.
"I've always enjoyed these kind of courses," he said of the links, "and this kind of playing, when you have to think outside the box. It's our own major in Europe, so growing up watching it, seeing Seve [Ballesteros] winning it."
Garcia had just watched the new film on Ballesteros' life, and said he was inspired by his countryman all over again. One of the greatest shot-makers ever, and a winner of five majors, Seve has been a tough standard for Sergio to match, for anyone to match.
Garcia doesn't have to worry about that anymore. He merely needs to win one major, not five, to drastically alter the way golf fans will remember his career.
He'll need some help at Royal Liverpool, as in a lot. He'll need Saturday's forecast storms to blow McIlroy's lead out to sea, and he'll need to embrace the weather, which he didn't do as a younger man at the 2002 U.S. Open, when he complained that the USGA let him compete in the kind of rain that would've guaranteed a suspension of play if Tiger Woods were on the course.
Garcia has never escaped the shadow of Woods, the 14-time major winner, and Sergio's racial remark last year at a European Tour dinner did nothing to improve their non-relationship. As Garcia was conducting his post-round news conference Friday, Woods suddenly popped up on a TV screen a few feet away, standing over the birdie putt that would spare him from missing the cut.
As it turned out, Garcia's own birdie at No. 18 was far more meaningful.
"It's great to be there," he said, "and I'll be ready to shoot a good round tomorrow to make sure we keep ourselves in contention."
Only this isn't about contention anymore for Garcia. This is about placing first at last, and figuring the whole thing out over the next 36 holes from 6 shots back.
Deep down, nobody expects Garcia to pull this off, including those living in the Garcia household. But this is how a scarred 34-year-old man wins a major -- on the same kind of wild and crazy whim that compelled a 19-year-old kid with his eyes closed to hit a forever shot from behind a tree.