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Did Sergio Garcia have something to prove in opening round of 2024 U.S. Open? ‘No, of course not’

PINEHURST, N.C. — With 24 U.S. Opens in his rearview mirror, you’d think Sergio Garcia’s routine for this major championship would be tried and true, a consistent formula he’s honed through years.

But since his five-year exemption into the event from his 2017 Masters victory had ended and — by virtue of joining LIV Golf — his Official World Golf Ranking has slipped to 773, Garcia tried to play his way into the event through a Dallas qualifier, just up I-35 from his home in Austin, Texas.

After a 5-under opening round in the 36-hole qualifier, Garcia appeared poised to find his way back into the Pinehurst field. He struggled in the second round, however, and then found himself in a 7-for-6 playoff where he was the only player eliminated after the first playoff hole.

So when Garcia got a call from USGA officials on Monday, informing him that he’d been pushed into the field after finding his way onto the alternate list, the 2024 U.S. Open took on a very different feel, one in which Garcia was simply elated to be in the field, rather than thinking about his chances to secure a second major.

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After he opened play at Pinehurst No. 2 on Thursday with a first-round 69, the fiery Spaniard’s expectations have taken a markedly different outlook.

“Obviously to shoot under par in a U.S. Open, which is a championship that I love, it’s always great,” Garcia said. “To go bogey-free is even greater. It’s something that I give a lot of respect to, and I’m very proud of. I’ve had the pleasure of playing this championship 25 years in a row, so not a lot of people get to do that, so I’m very, very happy to be here, and that’s why I keep trying to qualify and make it here.

“Very happy about the way I played, the way I managed my game throughout the whole round, and how patient I stayed all day.”

Garcia had plans to attend the event with wife Angela and his family either way after learning he’d been named an alternate, but admitted that when the call came it added a sense of relief. And after a few practice rounds, Garcia didn’t feel much pressure as he let loose on the fairways at the Donald Ross design on Thursday.

“I did drive it really, really well. Very aggressively, too,” he said. “You can aim at flags from the spots that I was. You can, but if you’re not perfect, all the good work that you do from the tee you can throw it in the trash in a couple of holes where you’re just a little bit off, and you can struggle to make even bogey here.

“I tried to stay very calm and very committed to what I wanted to do, which was to hit a lot of greens after driving the ball that well and give myself a lot of outside chances for birdie.”

Sergio Garcia putts on the first green during the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: Katie Goodale-USA TODAY Sports

Garcia had just a single birdie on the day, but it was a beauty. Garcia pushed his second shot on the par-5 5th hole into a bunker, but nearly holed out from the sand and tapped in for an easy birdie from inside two feet.

Making his third appearance in an Open at Pinehurst, Garcia is familiar and comfortable with the venue, even if it has a different look in recent years since a renovation from Coore and Crenshaw.

“I’ve always liked it here. I’ve obviously played in 2005 and 2014.  I did very well in 2005.  The course was playing different than it is now,” he said. “I’ve always liked U.S. Opens because I don’t feel like you have to birdie every hole. You’re making a lot of pars, you’re not losing really much ground, other than a couple of venues that we played in the last maybe seven or eight years.”

Since he qualified as an alternate, did Garcia feel any pressure to prove that he warranted a spot in the field? Not exactly.

“I mean, I love what I do, which is playing golf. I’m a competitor. I try to do it the best I can,” he said. “Do I have to prove anything? No, of course not. Would I like to play better and better every day? Of course I would. Who wouldn’t. When it comes down to proving things, I don’t think so. I think I’ve done well enough.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek