-- No golfer has won the week before the U.S. Open and then won America's national championship. Sergio Garcia knows this bit of trivia by heart, having won three times immediately before the second leg of the Grand Slam.
Garcia has reached such a point of familiarity on this subject that sometimes he begins addressing the question of superstition almost before reporters finish asking. Such was the case earlier this week after he won the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club and came to Pinehurst No. 2 seeking his first major championship.
"I think I take it differently," Garcia said. "I have a chance of doing it twice, and I haven't been able. I've been close, but now I have another chance. So I'm looking forward. Hopefully we can make it third time lucky."
Luck had little bearing on Garcia's second round, which ended in the early afternoon as the sun began baking the greens. Beginning his round on the back nine, the long-hitting Spaniard, who won the European tour's Canarias Open de Espana before the 2002 U.S. Open and the Buick Classic before last year's, shot a 1-under-par 69 that included a chip-in birdie at No. 18 and birdies on two of his final three holes.
The late-round surge left Garcia at even par for the tournament and two shots behind co-leaders Olin Browne, Jason Gore and two-time U.S. Open champion Retief Goosen.
"Some days you finish better than others, and today was a good day," said Garcia, decked out in a bright yellow and white striped polo, cream pants and white and yellow golf shoes to complete a wardrobe that matches his flair on the course. "I feel good about my game. I feel good about my putting. I think that's improved a lot."
Garcia's best effort with the putter came at the 175-yard par-3 ninth. His tee shot came to rest 18 feet from the pin after he got it to settle on one of the most difficult greens on the course. Bunkers guard the front, two more await in the back, and the two-tiered green is severely sloped.
After watching his putt roll into the center of the cup, Garcia pumped his right fist as the gallery bellowed and rewarded him with loud applause. He heard the same at No. 18, but this time his putter stayed in the bag after he chipped over a bunker and into the cup from approximately 30 yards.
"I still felt like I putted fairly well today, even with the pressure and everything," said Garcia, who took 30 putts over his second round.
The burden of winning his first major also remains. Barely into his golfing prime, Garcia figures to have plenty of opportunity no matter what happens over the weekend. Often mentioned among a handful of players with the length and creativity to rival Tiger Woods and his elite peers, Garcia's best finish at the U.S. Open was fourth in 2002. His best result in a major was second at the 1999 PGA Championship.
"I've had my chances. I definitely did," Garcia said, "but it's not something that bothers me that much at the moment. Fortunately I'm only 25, so if injuries and everything go right, I should have a lot of chances of winning a major in the near future.
"I'm just hoping to keep this going. I've just got to keep doing the same things, and if I'm able to do that, hopefully we'll be here on Sunday having a chance."