Sergio Garcia could have stopped after he whined about fans of Tiger Woods making too much noise on the golf course. He should have stopped after saying Woods is not a nice person who has been lying to the media since the first time he stepped into an interview room.

That he didn't close his mouth may end up to be Garcia's biggest regret in a career already chock full of them.

"The problem is, I'm one of the guys that has to say something," Garcia said the other day. "A lot of people think about it, but don't want to say anything."

OK, Sergio, you've had your say. Great line about the fried chicken, though I hate to tell you it's already been used.

Now it's time to shut up.

No need for further apologies like the one you made Wednesday about your attempt at a joke being totally stupid and out of place. Unlike you, we figured that out easily enough when Fuzzy Zoeller said it at the Masters 16 years ago, and it's just as true today.

Just go away, somewhere where there's not a microphone in sight. Put away the sticks, and take the summer off.

Doesn't matter much anyway because Woods is so far under your skin that there is no way you're going to beat him in the U.S. Open, the British Open, or any other Open. Anyone needing further evidence should go looking for golf balls with the initials SG on them in the pond surrounding the 17th green at TPC Sawgrass.

Yes, this was all kind of funny up to a certain point. No one calls out Tiger Woods — at least on the golf course — and the thought of Woods and Garcia sniping at each other as the golf season heated up was an entertaining one.

The petulant child taking on the arrogant superstar. If nothing else, it was something to fill time while waiting to see if Woods was ever going to win another major championship.

Then Garcia upped the ante by making it real personal and really ugly. Regrets, sure he has some now, but the line in England about his dinner plans with Woods didn't come out of nowhere.

Black people and fried chicken, get it? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

My initial thought was that this could only happen in golf, an insular sport that has never been terribly welcoming to minorities. Turns out, though, that there are soccer fields across Europe where people actually laugh at this kind of racist drivel.

But for it to happen twice in golf means the lessons of the past simply haven't been learned. And for it to come from Garcia, who has spent his career unsuccessfully chasing Woods, shows both a stunning lack of maturity and a complete ignorance of how racial stereotypes can cause real pain.

To give Garcia some credit, he said he was sick to his stomach when he realized what came out of his mouth. Indeed, this was more stupid than it was racial, a juvenile attempt to upstage Woods for his continuing smugness about beating Garcia earlier this month when Garcia self-destructed in the Players Championship.

That doesn't make it right, but it does put it in context. This wasn't Zoeller, a southerner who understood stereotypes well, and this isn't 1997, when even fewer blacks played golf than play today and the PGA Tour was a lily-white affair. There still aren't any black players other than Woods competing at the highest level, but the tour is arguably more diversified with an infusion of Asian players since that time.

This is also not the same Tiger Woods, who famously left Zoeller hanging for weeks before responding to his efforts to apologize. This time Woods quickly got on Twitter to say the remark was hurtful and inappropriate but that he thought Garcia's apology was an honest one.

"I'm confident that there is real regret the remark was made," Woods said.

What Woods really thinks about Garcia probably won't be put on Twitter, though it's been clear there has never been any love lost between the two men since they dueled in the 1999 PGA Championship and Garcia appeared to try and egg Woods on. Like Woods, Garcia was a teen superstar-in-waiting, but he's never come close to fulfilling his promise as a rival to the great one, largely because his wandering mind tends to overwhelm his immense talent.

Just how fragile the Spaniard can be is not only reflected in his record, but his constant griping about the game that made him rich. When he lost the British Open in 2007 he said the golf gods just didn't want him to win, and at the Masters last year he was so down in the dumps he said he would never win a major.

At the Players a few weeks ago he self-destructed when given a chance coming down the final holes with a chance to beat Woods. Lately, he's been self-destructing just thinking about Woods, who seems to torment him even when he goes to sleep at night.

Woods, for his part, seemed to welcome the feud, at least until Garcia stepped over the line. And it did add some spice to a vanilla tour.

Now we'll just have to be satisfied listening to them blandly thank sponsors and volunteers as they cash million-dollar checks.

"Get over it, we're out of junior high and high school," tour player Tim Herron said. "Just go play golf."

Not a bad idea, even if the advice comes a bit late for Garcia. Though the head of the European Tour said he won't be punished, Garcia will pay dearly for what he said.

He'll forever have to be subservient to Woods, never again be able to say anything even remotely negative about his erstwhile rival.

And for Garcia that may be the worst punishment of all.


Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg