Who’ll stop the reign? Champion US and Europe face big schedule changes at soaked Ryder Cup

By Paul Newberry, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Europe, US scramble at water-logged Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales — Workers scurried around the greens with squeegees, furiously pushing away water before every putt. Players sloshed down soaked fairways, desperately searching for any spot to hit that was somewhat dry. The Americans couldn’t even stay dry in their gaudy rainsuits.

The Ryder Cup was halted for more than seven hours Friday in the middle of fourball matches because of heavy rain that turned Celtic Manor into a water-logged mess, the first weather delay since 1997 and leading to a drastic schedule change in hopes of avoiding the first Monday finish.

“The first thing I need is to find a hair dryer,” joked PGA championship winner Martin Kaymer, who played the opening match for Europe with Lee Westwood.

After the opening fourball matches are completed Saturday morning, there will be six alternate-shot matches in the second session — meaning all 24 players will be used at one time. Same for the third session, which will be composed of two alternate-shot matches and the last four matches of fourball.

The third session will surely carry over to Sunday morning. Officials hope they’ll still have enough time that afternoon to get in the 12 singles.

If not, they’ll finish Monday.

When play resumed at 5 p.m. local time, Phil Mickelson knocked his first shot into the pond behind the sixth green, Dustin Johnson three-putted for a bogey and Westwood claimed the hole with a brilliant shot over the water to about 6 feet, putting the Europeans 3 up.

But the Americans roared back with birdies at a pair of par 3s. Johnson knocked in one at the seventh, Lefty chipped in at the 10th to leave the duo just 1 down.

As nightfall approach, the U.S. had bounced back from a shaky start for its first lead. Stewart Cink, playing with Matt Kuchar, rolled in two long birdie putts — including a 30-footer at the seventh — to lead his team to a 1-up edge on the Northern Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.

The rookie pairing of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton made birdies at the first two holes and was holding a 2-up lead on Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington through seven holes. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were all-square in their match with Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher approaching the turn.

But this will go down as the day it just kept raining and raining in Wales, hosting its first Ryder Cup.

“It’s a shame,” U.S. assistant captain Jeff Sluman said. “There’s 10 years of planning that went into this, and we’re held hostage by the weather.”

The rain was so strong that impromptu rivers crisscrossed the course, including a particularly wide stream of water flowing down the middle of the 18th fairway, dumping into a pond in front of the green. But the Twenty Ten course, especially built for this competition, drained quickly once the rain finally stopped.

The Americans retreated to the clubhouse, eager to get out of their soaked clothing.

Their rainsuits were panned by British television commentators, including renowned U.S. coach Butch Harmon, as looking more suited for a basketball team — and they didn’t work, either. Amazingly, American officials had to hustle over to the merchandise tent, where fans shop, to snatch up about 20 replacement suits on the picked-over shelves.

The rain gear ordered by U.S. captain Corey Pavin was made by Sun Mountain, which provided a navy blue suit with white stripes that had “USA” and the players’ names on the back.

“We were disappointed with the performance of them, and we just fixed it,” Pavin said. “They were not doing what we wanted them to do, so we went out and bought some more waterproofs.”

The new suits, made by ProQuip, have only a Ryder Cup logo, without any special markings for a U.S. uniform, Mason said. They cost about $350 apiece.

The Europeans couldn’t resist poking a little fun at the Americans’ plight.

“Just have to say our waterproofs are performing very well!” McIlroy tweeted.

The players passed the time eating, chatting, watching TV and playing video games, including Woods’ signature golf game on Xbox. Poulter tweeted a picture of Harrington sleeping on the floor of the European locker room, using a bag as a pillow. Watson tossed out U.S. badges to the fans gathered around the clubhouse.

Even with the players able to take relief in the fairway, there simply wasn’t any place to drop without winding up in another puddle.

“If this was any other golf tournament, it would have been stopped earlier,” said Thomas Bjorn, an assistant captain for the Europeans. “It’s too wet to really continue. We’re in a situation where people are considering dropping from fairways into the rough. Then it just becomes a bit silly.”

The atmosphere was electric shortly after sunrise as thousands of umbrella-toting fans chanted “Ole! Ole! Ole!” in hopes of spurring a European team featuring six rookies. An amphitheater-style stadium was built around the first tee, allowing 2,000 fans to watch the opening shots.

The Americans have five rookies of their own — plus the world’s top-ranked player, Woods.

Pavin decided to send out Woods in the third slot, instead of the opening or closing matches that he played in previous Ryder Cups. Maybe he needed a change after struggling through a winless year on the course and the collapse of his marriage, done in by numerous affairs.

Woods made a birdie at the par-5 second hole, laying up with his second shot and sticking a wedge to 6 feet. But Poulter pushed the Europeans back into the lead at No. 3, rolling in a 25-foot birdie.

Pavin got off to a shaky start at the opening ceremony, forgetting to introduce Cink, and the suit debacle only added to his woes.

Of course, no points are awarded for introductions or fashion. Back home, all will be forgiven if Pavin guides the Americans to a successful cup defense.

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