PARIS (Reuters) - Some eyebrows were raised at the Ryder Cup wildcard selection of Sergio Garcia on the back of a poor season but, after winning his first two matches in emphatic style, the Spaniard has shown that he can deliver on the course as well as in the team room.
There was a suspicion that Ryder Cup veteran Garcia had been chosen primarily for his infectious enthusiasm and likeability, though he has said himself during the week that he did not feel he had anything to prove.
Now he and captain Thomas Bjorn will be feeling quietly pleased with themselves after his superb displays helped Europe to an 8-4 lead halfway through Saturday’s action.
On Friday, Garcia linked up with rookie Alex Noren to destroy Phil Mickelson and Bryson Dechambeau 5&4 and it could have been even more emphatic as they led by seven after a front-nine birdie-fest.
Garcia then teamed up with Rory McIlroy in the first match of Saturday’s fourballs and the duo produced a scintillating performance to beat Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau 2&1.
The Europeans dovetailed superbly to surge four-up after eight holes, a lead they still held after 12.
Things then got a bit nervy when the Americans won three in a row to cut the lead to one with two holes remaining.
But that proved merely the scene-setter for Garcia, who settled it on the 17th by draining a superb, sliding 20-footer for a birdie to send the packed galleries ballistic.
Garcia too exploded with emotion before disappearing under a mass of camp-followers.
“It was amazing,” Garcia said. “I thought we played great all day but they started coming hard at us in the last few holes.
“There were a couple of mistakes but we knew we just had to keep giving ourselves chances. It was great for Rory to make that par putt (on 17) because it gave me the freedom to go for it.”
This week’s two wins take 38-year-old Garcia’s career Ryder Cup points total to 24.5 — half a point behind the competition’s all-time leading scorer Nick Faldo.
“I love playing with this guy,” said McIlroy. “The putt to finish it off was incredible. You can see how much it means to us by Sergio’s reaction; he comes into his own in this tournament. His passion and fire is infectious and rubbed off on me today.
“Longevity, consistency, fire, passion, this is what he lives for. I hope he surpasses Faldo’s record this week.”
Garcia did not have to wait long to make his tilt at history, going out with Noren again in the foursomes to take on Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Clare Fallon