By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOUISVILLE Kentucky (Reuters) - Long labeled as one of the best players in the modern game who has yet to win a major title, Sergio Garcia is oozing confidence as he heads into this week's PGA Championship after a sizzling run of form.
The 34-year-old Spaniard has recorded four top-three finishes in his last five PGA Tour starts, including runner-up spots in his last three, and has great expectations for the final major of the season.
"It's been a good year," world number three Garcia told reporters at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday as he wound up his preparations for Thursday's opening round. "A lot of high finishes, some really good chances of winning tournaments.
"I obviously feel quite good. I'm excited about it. It will be nice to play well again this week."
Asked if this was the most confident he had ever been heading into a major championship, Garcia replied: "Yeah, possibly.
"Obviously 2008 was a big year for me, kind of similar to this year with a lot of good playing and winning the Players that year."
The PGA Tour's flagship Players Championship is widely regarded as the unofficial "fifth major" and Garcia clinched the title six years ago in a playoff with American Paul Goydos for the biggest win of his career.
His golf this season has been hugely impressive, though he has triumphed only once, at the European Tour's Qatar Masters in January, despite several close calls along the way.
DWELLING ON POSITIVES
While some players might feel frustrated after suffering a bunch of near-misses, Garcia preferred to dwell on the positive aspects of being in contention for titles.
"I try to always look at the positive side of it," said the Spaniard, an eight-times winner on the PGA Tour. "I think that the only one I could say maybe I could have done a little bit better was Sunday.
"I could have putted definitely a little bit better but for some reason I just struggled with the speed of the greens."
Garcia blew a three-stroke lead going into the final round of last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to finish alone in second, two shots behind Rory McIlroy.
"But you know, if you look at some of the other finishes, I was coming from behind, I was attacking, I was trying to catch up," said Garcia. "So I think for the most part, it's all been very positive.
"Obviously finishing second is not the greatest but the guy that loses (out) is the only one that has a chance of winning. If I'm lying 50th, I'd rather finish second and lose than be 50th and not have a chance."
Garcia could be forgiven for feeling a little sick at the sight of McIlroy, the Northern Irishman having relegated him to second place in the last two tournaments he has played – the British Open at Hoylake and the Bridgestone Invitational.
"He's a wonderful player," the Spaniard said of world number one McIlroy, a three-times major champion. "We're quite friendly with each other. We get along well. We enjoy each other's company, so it's good to see him playing well.
"Obviously he's got a lot of talent. The only thing I can do is keep improving, keep getting better and when we're both up there again, make it even tougher or impossible to beat him."
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)