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Sergio Garcia gave it everything. 

The flame still burns bright inside this impossibly-talented but tempestuous Spaniard – and that’s why his second near-miss in two years at Final Qualifying for The Open will sting.

“You kind of lose a little perspective of how difficult it is to get into the majors and how much they mean,” he told reporters at West Lancs, where he missed out on a ticket to Royal Troon by two shots.

“That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s the flame that I have in my game. That’s why I come here and try to qualify.”

Garcia has the same affection for golf’s oldest major as the rest of us. He’s been fortunate enough to play in 25 of them – and it’s difficult to comprehend how he hasn’t put at least one Claret Jug in his trophy room.

So while many of his LIV Golf colleagues didn’t bother facing up to this draining 36-hole marathon, the 44-year-old was desperate to prove the doubters wrong.

Garcia prepared the best way he could. He pitched up early and played practice rounds, and he competed on Tuesday with the same passion that has not only ignited one of the finest players of a generation but has also muddled his ever-evolving reputation.

Yet it still wasn’t enough.

“I’m out there and I’m trying as hard as I can to get into The Open because I love The Open and I love playing majors,” he said. “It’s tough when you’re that close and you finish right on the edge, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it.”

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Garcia was despondent but proud after rounds of 71 and 70 meant he came up just shy.

What must be noted, however, was that he and his playing partners Alex Maguire and Sam Bairstow played this qualifier in almost entirely different circumstances to the other 69 players in the field.

As you would expect, the 2017 Masters champion commanded at least 90 per cent of the crowds. At the afternoon peak, there were around 2,000 people following his every move.

Garcia was the Pied Piper of the links and, for many fans, walking alongside a genuine great of the game while he’s in the heart of the battle – all free of charge, it should be noted – was almost too good to be true.

It’s what makes Open Qualifying so great, but it turned out to be Garcia’s curse.

From the first tee, Garcia’s group was marshalled by just a handful of volunteers – and it was soon apparent that would be a problem. The three-ball were being forced to wait on most tee shots – often for several minutes – while fans moved from their line on the fairway.

The caddies were forced to double up as security and, on more than one occasion, it was an almost military operation to move oblivious spectators from the line of fire. There were seemingly little restriction as to where Garcia’s army of admirers could encroach.

Still, he started well and, while irked by the delays, Garcia was smiling as he enjoyed interactions with his support.

Sergio Garcia
Sergio Garcia says there were as many as 2,000 fans following him at one point. (Credit: Getty Images)

But then things took a rather sinister turn.

On the eighth hole, an R&A official told Garcia his group was four minutes behind the three-ball in front. bunkered learned that ten groups in total were on the clock in blustery morning conditions, but Garcia was astonished at the perceived lack of understanding of his own situation.

He was simmering away on the ninth tee box, mumbling his grievances that he did not have any control over his pace of play yet was suddenly under threat of being hit with potentially costly penalty shots.

And then came the outburst.

While walking down the fairway, Garcia became embroiled in a heated exchange with two Open officials. He was heard snapping back at one from a distance: “You’re right, we’re always wrong!” The fiery back-and-forth made for uncomfortable viewing.

There is a way of getting your point across and, like Garcia so often has with rules officials in his career, he overstepped the mark.

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Let’s be clear, though. Garcia was not angry with the fans themselves – “They’re amazing,” he told bunkered afterwards – the problem was with the organisation. He felt he was now being rushed because Open officials had not learned from last year and put numbers in place to cope with the attention on him.

In fairness, it still seemed as though Garcia was spending as much time as he needed to play, but the warning was clearly playing on his mind.

The R&A rectified the issue for Garcia’s second round, with at least 15 marshals following his group, roping off areas and giving the players more freedom for clear thought.

Garcia played some stellar golf too, making two miraculous birdies down the closing stretch, but he could not quite ride that momentum in winds that reached 20 miles-an-hour on the Lancashire coast.

Much to his credit, after signing his second-round scorecard for the recorders and plenty more balls and gloves for young fans, Garcia spent more than ten minutes answering the media’s questions.

Here, he was far more diplomatic on his viral flashpoint.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “When you have 2,000 people following us with no ropes, nothing. The marshals were trying to do as good a job as they could do but obviously we had to stop pretty much on every tee for two or three minutes to hit our tee shots because people were walking in front of the tee and on the fairway.

“Unless we wanted to start hitting people, we couldn’t hit. I don’t think they took that into account and that was unfortunate because it made us rush. On a day like today where the conditions are so tricky and you might need a little bit of extra time here and there it doesn’t help out.

“Because of that I made a couple of bogeys that cost me getting to Troon.”

The idea that a warning cost Garcia his 100th major start is dubious but he was clearly affected by the chaos. And, for better or worse, this two-time Open runner-up will now miss out on a tilt for the Claret Jug for the second straight year.

Don’t be mistaken, though. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Garcia, it’s that he’ll be equally fired up to make Royal Portrush in 2025.

We’ll be recording episodes of The bunkered Podcast every day from The Open – so make sure you’re subscribed!

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Ben Parsons joined bunkered as a Content Producer in 2023 and is the man to come to for all of the latest news, across both the professional and amateur games. Formerly of The Mirror and Press Association, he is a member at Halifax Golf Club and is a long-suffering fan of both Manchester United and the Wales rugby team.

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