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Sergio Garcia is in a good place with game, life

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, watches his tee shot

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, watches his tee shot on the 15th hole during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. The tournament is set to begin on Thursday. Credit: AP / Mike Groll

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- People at Bethpage recently were among the first to notice it. They could tell by his breezy manner during a corporate appearance in late June, handing out free drivers and chatting up the public: This is a new Sergio Garcia.

He's not the petulant young golfer who grew so exasperated at Bethpage in 2002 that he gave fans a vulgar gesture. He is in a better frame of mind, and has been playing better golf, too. He was asked yesterday a chicken-or-egg question: Is he happier because he's playing better or vice versa?

"I think a bit of both. I feel like things around me are right where I want them to be and that obviously puts me in a nicer situation when I go on the golf course," he said on the eve of the PGA Championship, alluding to his relationship with girlfriend Katharina Boehm.

On Sunday, he squandered a three-stroke lead in the final round of the WGC Bridgestone Invitational and finished second, as the old Sergio often did. He did take it in stride better.

"Obviously, finishing second is not the greatest," he said, "but the guy that loses [a close one] is the only one that had a chance of winning."

Stricker is Ryder Cup aide

Tom Watson Wednesday named Steve Stricker an assistant captain for the U.S. Ryder Cup team, giving his staff one member who is a contemporary of the team members, what with Andy North and Raymond Floyd being from an older generation. Stricker said Watson called him last Friday.

"I didn't answer it because I don't have Tom's number in my phone. It was a Kansas City number. So I let it go to voice mail," Stricker said, "Then I heard it's Tom and I said, 'Oh, I don't want to miss that one.' So I called him right back. I said there isn't any question. I'd love to be part of that."

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