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By Mark Lamport-Stokes
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Sergio Garcia on Tuesday made repeated apologies for the "fried chicken" jibe he directed at Tiger Woods last month, saying he "felt terrible" and had left a note for the American in his locker.
Though the two players shook hands on the practice range at Merion Golf Club on Monday in their first meeting since Garcia made the reference, the Spaniard said it had not been an "appropriate place" for him to apologize to Woods in person.
Garcia conceded that the fall-out from the whole affair could distract him in his bid to win this week's U.S. Open and expressed his hope that Woods would read the note at some point.
"I want to apologize for what happened a couple of weeks ago," Garcia told reporters at the start of what turned out to be a moving and heart-felt news conference at Merion on Tuesday.
"But hopefully, like Tiger said, he's considering the matter closed and hopefully we can all move forward and kind of start competing ... respectfully ... hopefully we can all have a great tournament."
Asked if he had apologized to Woods during their brief meeting at Merion on Monday, Garcia replied: "Unfortunately not. I felt like it wasn't the appropriate place for me to, out of respect to him and to the other players, to do it there.
"Unfortunately, when I got done practicing he was gone already, so I couldn't see him.
"This morning I was here early. I didn't see him around, but I did leave him a note. A handwritten note. Hopefully he can take a look at it. It's a big week and I understand that it's difficult to meet up and stuff."
Garcia, an eight-times champion on the PGA Tour who has yet to win a major, admitted his own form might suffer at Merion this week with his mental focus still a little shaky following the "fried chicken" affair.
"I don't know," said the 33-year-old Spaniard. "We'll see. It obviously doesn't help, but it is my own fault. I don't have anyone to blame other than myself.
"Obviously I've been very worried about the whole situation. I felt terrible about it. But people have made me feel very good out there (on the golf course), the last couple of days, so hopefully that will continue throughout the week.
"The only thing I can do is give my best effort and hopefully that would give me a chance (to contend). If not, we'll move on and we'll try to play well the week after."
Garcia gave perhaps his most heart-felt reply during Tuesday's news conference when an African-American reporter asked him whether he was aware how much his stinging "fried chicken" comments had offended much of society in general.
"I understand that," said the Spaniard, with his eyes focused squarely on the reporter. "That's why I said sorry, because I can obviously see that I hurt a lot of people.
"And that doesn't make me feel good. I can tell you that. I wish I could go back in time and take back what I said, but unfortunately, I said it.
"The only thing I can do is show you my respect from here moving forward. I try to be as respectful as possible competing and hopefully what I do will show you how much I care about everybody. So only time will tell us I guess."
Garcia made the jibe at a European Tour awards dinner in England, then apologized in a news conference the following day.
Fried chicken has become a racial stereotype in the United States when referring to African-Americans - a reference to the days before the abolition of slavery when chicken was believed to be a staple part of the diet.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)