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'EL NINO' TOO MUCH FOR DEFENDING CHAMP KUCHAR

The two top amateur golfers in the world wrote the first chapter Friday of a rivalry that could last the next 20 years.

Both Sergio "El Nino" Garcia and Matt Kuchar have "Great Pro" stamped all over their golf games. They played a quarterfinal U.S. Amateur match that was as dramatic as any recent head-to-head meeting of the world's top pros.

"On the 17th green, I thought to myself 'I hope someday we will play a Ryder Cup match like this one,' " said Garcia. "I think we will."

Count on it.

Garcia, the 18-year-old phenom from Spain, ended Kuchar's bid to repeat as U.S. champion with a 2-up victory at Oak Hill Country Club.

Garcia played the 17 holes in 4-under par. Kuchar, the 20-year-old darling of last April's Masters, was 1-under.

"If I had to lose, that's the way I want to go out," said Kuchar, a junior at Georgia Tech. "I ran into El Nino, I guess. I played tremendously. He just one-upped me."

Garcia now is two wins away from becoming only the fifth player ever to win both the British and U.S. amateurs in the same year.

He is the heavy favorite today in the semifinals against Tom McKnight, a 44-year-old petroleum distributor. The other semifinal pits collegiate stars Bill Lunde of Nevada-Las Vegas against Hank Kuehne of Southern Methodist. The semifinals start at 9 a.m. Channel 2 will show it on tape delay from 2 to 4 p.m. The 36-hole final is Sunday.

Today's golf will have a hard time matching the caliber of Friday's play.

Garcia currently is ranked No. 1 in the United States (even though he has played most of his golf in Europe) and Kuchar is No. 2.

A crowd of 4,500 saw the following twists and turns during the match:

On the par-5 fourth hole, Kuchar holed a 25-yard bunker shot from in front of the green. The crowed roared. Kuchar's ebullient father and caddy, Peter, jumped in the air four times and high-fived two U.S. Golf Association officials.

"It was in the whole way," Kuchar said.

On the green of the par-4 fifth, Garcia gained what seemed like a tactical edge. Garcia faced a 7-foot downhill-sidehill putt for par. Kuchar was eyeing an 8-foot uphill-sidehill par putt. Garcia said, "Hey Matt, you want to halve?" Kuchar said yes, and they both picked up.

"I looked at it as good sportsmanship," Kuchar said. "I thought it was a fair deal."

"I preferred his putt to mine," Garcia said. "Mine was a break left to right. I didn't like mine too much."

On the par-5 13th, Garcia did his best impression of his countryman and hero, Seve Ballesteros, by scrambling for par. His second shot went into the right rough, under an evergreen tree. He had a blind shot from 140 yards. He had to put it under a tree limb 3 feet high and 5 yards in front of him and over a bank that rose for 20 yards in front of him. And a branch was impeding his backswing. He hit it to the apron, 5 yards in front of the green, and made par.

"I had to make my backswing a little flatter," Garcia said. "That was a good one."

On the 323-yard uphill 14th, Garcia gambled and tried to drive the green. Garcia, who outdrove Kuchar by 20 to 30 yards almost every hole, hit it 310 yards, to the front rough, from where he made birdie to go 1-up.

Kuchar came right back and hit a 7-iron on the 181-yard downhill 15th to 2 feet and made birdie to tie.

On the 439-yard 16th, Garcia hit a pitching wedge from a bad lie in the rough 137 yards out to 8 feet and made birdie to take the lead.

Garcia clinched it on the 17th when he hit a 300-yard drive into the fairway and Kuchar pulled his tee shot into the rough. Kuchar's tough second shot found a bunker behind the green, from where he made bogey.

Kuchar, a good sportsman to the end, started clapping for Garcia as soon as his own par putt missed the cup.

Garcia turned and gave a long hug to his caddy and father, Victor, who is a club pro in Spain.

"It was one of the best matches I've ever played," said Garcia, who finished 29th at the British Open last month. "I enjoyed it a lot."

Garcia now is 36-1 in match play the past two years.

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