ARDMORE, Pa. – Sergio Garcia already has drawn the ire of Tiger Woods.
The Philly crowd could be on him next.
Garcia could feel the wrath — and hear those familiar boos — from fans who have largely embraced Woods following his two-year run in suburban Philadelphia with the AT&T National.
Garcia’s “fried chicken” comment about Woods and other incidents of boorish behavior, notably, a run-in with the gallery at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, N.Y., might make him as welcome at Merion Golf Cub for this year’s Open as a Dallas Cowboy.
Garcia tried to downplay the possibility of the crowd turning on him come Thursday.
“I feel like they love me,” he said. “I love them too. I respect them very much. Obviously, you can’t please everyone, but I couldn’t be unhappy about the way I feel about the crowds.”
That’s about as awkward an attempt at diffusing the situation as leaving a note in a locker, just like he did with Woods on Tuesday. Garcia said it would be up to Woods to share the contents.
With Garcia on the defensive, Woods came out as if he were about to apply for Philadelphia’s chamber of commerce.
Area fans flocked to Woods in 2010 and 2011 at Aronimink and made him feel as loved as Julius Erving or Bob Clarke.
With fans shrieking at the sight of Woods during practice, he returned the love at Merion.
“We had our event at Aronimink and it was unbelievable,” he said. “It was electric. I think this week will be the same thing.”
Score one for Tiger.
Woods has a more pressing task on his plate than making peace with Garcia. He’s hoping to end his five-year drought without winning a major.
Woods won four majors on courses he had never played — Medinah for the 1999 PGA Championship, Valhalla for the PGA Championship the following year, Bethpage Black in the 2002 U.S. Open and Royal Liverpool for the 2006 British Open.
Merion is new not only to him, but just about everyone.
It last hosted a U.S. Open in 1981, when David Graham closed with a 67. Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker played Merion, but they were all college kids at the 1989 U.S. Amateur. Others competed in the 2005 U.S. Amateur or the 2009 Walker Cup.
But never at a U.S. Open.
For Garcia, the U.S. Open at Merion might live up to its reputation as the toughest test in golf. He returns to America, on one of the biggest stages in golf, for the first time since a public feud with Woods took an ugly turn at a celebration dinner in England. Garcia jokingly was asked if he would invite Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open. “We will serve fried chicken,” Garcia grinned.
Garcia approached Woods on the practice range Monday at Merion for a handshake, and little more.
“We didn’t discuss anything,” Woods said. “Just came up and said, ‘Hi,’ and that was it.”
Asked if Garcia apologized, Woods said, “No. It’s already done. We’ve already gone through it all. It’s time for the U.S. Open, and we tee it up in two days.”
That handshake might be their only meeting this week.
They are on opposite sides of the draw — Garcia plays Thursday morning and Friday afternoon, Woods tees off Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Unless they are near each other on the leaderboard on the weekend, they might not see each other again.