'Everyone loves Sergio': Garcia proving worth at Ryder CupSeptember 26, 2018 9:49am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France (AP) — As the missed cuts mounted, Sergio Garcia started to fear his status as a constant in Europe's Ryder Cup team was coming to an end.

He was a major champion at long last. His Ryder Cup record — 22 1/2 points in eight appearances — spoke for itself. His gravitas in European golf was not in question.

But his form wasn't quite there and he knew it.

"It feels like it's kind of getting a little farther away," Garcia said, recalling the doubts that set in after failing to make the weekend in all four majors. "You still kind of see it, but it starts to get too far away."

As it turned out, there was no need to worry. Thomas Bjorn was so convinced about Garcia's importance to the European cause, as much in the team room as on the course, that he was always going to pick the Spaniard as one of his four wild-card selections.

And the start of Ryder Cup week has proved just why he was chosen.

Fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm spoke Wednesday about Garcia's "contagious" enthusiasm and energy. Bjorn has already talked about Garcia's ability to "rally the troops" and act like the captain of a soccer team. Rory McIlroy described him as the "heartbeat" of the European team.

"I think just everyone loves Sergio," McIlroy said.

Significantly for Garcia's own peace of mind, his form might be returning.

The 2017 Masters champion hasn't shot higher than 70 in his last eight competitive rounds. He closed the Portugal Masters last week with a 65 for a seventh-place finish at an event he told Bjorn he wanted to play to ensure he would be sharp heading to France for the Ryder Cup.

It appears Garcia will be much more than a cheerleader this week.

"I think that I've proved myself over and over," Garcia said, "and the only thing I can do out there is when I get called upon playing, just do my best, do what I do, do what I've always done here at Ryder Cups, and that's everything."

Garcia has played in every Ryder Cup since 1999 except for 2010, when he was a vice captain. It has coincided with a long stretch of success for the Europeans, who have won six of the last eight editions.

"A lot of these Ryder Cup teams, it's about continuity and about bringing the same mind-set to each one," McIlroy said. "He (Garcia) likes to have fun. He never lets the environment or the atmosphere get too serious, and I think that's one of the big things about European Ryder Cups over the past few years. We've basically left any sort of egos at the door."

In that sense, and in many others, Garcia has followed in the footsteps of the late Seve Ballesteros, another fiery and fun-loving Spaniard who played a key role in the European resurgence in the Ryder Cup in the 1990s as both player and captain. At Le Golf National, Garcia will overtake Ballesteros as the Spaniard with most Ryder Cup appearances, with nine.

Rahm is cut from a similar cloth to Garcia and could even go on to threaten that record. The 23-year-old Rahm is one of five rookies in the European team and, to many, a future top-ranked player.

"It's always been a dream of mine to share the stage with Sergio," Rahm said. "I think he understands me as a fellow Spaniard, as both fiery players, I think he understands me more than anybody else. Whether we play together or not, he's going to be able to help me out most out of anybody in the world."

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For more AP golf coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Golf

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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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