The Europeans have whale of a Sunday at Ryder Cup, but US hopes to celebrate Monday in Wales

By Paul Newberry, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Europe having whale of a Ryder Cup in Wales

NEWPORT, Wales — The Ryder Cup is usually decided on a Sunday, and this one had all the trappings of a European victory: the fist-pumping performance by the home guys, a raucous crowd cheering them on, the scoreboard awash in blue when one last putt dropped in the cup.

The only thing missing was the champagne.

Unless the Americans can come up with a Brookline-like performance on this side of the Atlantic, that’s just a formality. The home team will be popping the corks on Monday.

During one of the greatest days in European golf history, the challengers routed Tiger Woods, handed Phil Mickelson a record he’d rather not have and got one hand firmly on the gold chalice that’s been in U.S. hands the last two years.

“I knew the Americans would come out strong,” captain Colin Montgomerie said. “We had to come out stronger.”

They finished well, too.

Monty’s boys turned a two-point deficit into a three-point lead, a commanding position even with a dozen singles matches still to go. The U.S. has overcome an even greater deficit before — at Brookline in 1999, the margin was 10-6 before a historic final-day comeback — but the Americans have never rallied from this far down as the visiting team.

“Is Europe ahead? Absolutely. It’s nice to have a cushion,” U.S. captain Corey Pavin said. “Can you come back from it? Absolutely.”

If nothing else, Pavin could attempt to rally his players by pointing out that it’s already been a Ryder Cup like no other, thrown into chaos by one dark cloud after another. Celtic Manor has endured torrential rains and two long delays. Now, it’s hosting the first Monday finish in the history of this 83-year-old event.

Why not bring back the cup against all possible odds?

“We have 12 of the best players in the world,” Pavin said. “They have 12 of the best players in the world, too. In match play, anything can happen. The one thing I can guarantee you is that Team USA is going to come out tomorrow and play hard and try to win the Ryder Cup.”

The Americans can only hope most of the waterlogged fans cheering on the Europeans had to get back to work. Of course, Montgomerie urged everyone to hang around Newport one extra day, even though this place has hardly come across as a tourist paradise with all the soggy weather.

“Quite a few of them might need a sick note,” Montgomerie quipped.

The forecast Monday was good by Welsh standards, though a thick fog engulfed the valley over the Twenty Ten course when Steve Stricker teed off in the first match against Lee Westwood. The mini-stadium around the first tee was packed with fans who chanted “You have Big Mac, we have Little Mac!” as Rory McIlroy entered for his match against Stewart Cink.

No matter what, the cup will be delivered to one team or the other by sundown. Any match still on the course will be halved, someone declared the winner.

Montgomerie has seemingly pushed every right button at this Ryder Cup, from setting up the team on an emotional call with former European star Seve Ballesteros (who’s battling brain cancer) to urging players to show more emotion to having the scoreboards changed so that every match the Europeans were leading would be shown in hard-to-miss blue, the team color.

When they walked off the course Sunday, he reminded them of what happened 11 years ago.

“Brookline was mentioned in the locker room,” said Montgomerie, who played on the losing European team. “This isn’t as good of a position as then.”

Still, all signs point to the Europeans reclaiming the cup they lost at Valhalla.

Not even a dreamer like Montgomerie could’ve envisioned what happened Sunday. His team was leading all six matches when play was suspended the night before because of darkness, but none were on the back nine and he figured some would surely flip.

The Europeans kept hitting every crucial shot they needed, though. They won some matches in routs, some by the thinnest of margins, but the first five to finish were all marked by blue on MontyVision.

Even the one dash of red turned at the end, feeling more like a loss for the Americans than the halve that it was.

Cink and Matt Kuchar were 1 up on Italian brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari going to the 18th, a risk-reward par-5 over the water. Cink caught the bunker with his tee shot and ruined any chance of a birdie. The other three players laid up. Francesco left his wedge 3 feet from the cup and, when the other two missed, he knocked in his putt for a half-point.

The final score was 5½-½ for Europe, turning the Americans’ 6-4 lead into a 9½-6½ deficit.

“I would have taken 8-all,” Montgomerie said.

Looking a bit shellshocked, Pavin submitted a singles lineup that had Woods in the eighth spot and Mickelson at No. 10. Considering the Europeans need only five points to clinch the match, the Ryder Cup could be decided before America’s big guns strike a whole lot of shots.

Then again, it was hard to argue with Pavin putting them so low, especially Mickelson.

Lefty lost all three of his team matches, joining fellow American Dustin Johnson (his partner in two of them) as the only players who’ve failed to score any points at Celtic Manor.

Mickelson’s latest defeat, a 2-and-1 setback while teamed with 21-year-old Rickie Fowler against Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer, was the 17th of Mickelson’s career, sending him past Ray Floyd as the losingest U.S. player in Ryder Cup history.

Woods won his first two matches with Stricker, though he still looks nothing like the player who dominated the sport before his personal life fell apart. When Woods and Stricker went out a third time in alternate shot, they were demolished by Westwood and Luke Donald.

The 6 and 5 outcome was the worst loss of Woods’ Ryder Cup career and his largest defeat ever in match play, individually or with a partner.

“When you’re playing Tiger, you just seem to up your game a little bit,” said Westwood, who is 6-1 in team matches against Woods. “I supposed he’s got nothing to win — apart from the point — but he’s got a big reputation.”

Three other matches also went Europe’s way: McIlroy and Graeme McDowell beat Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan 3 and 1; Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson knocked off boisterous American rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton 2 up; and unsung star Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington beat Dustin Johnson and new partner Jim Furyk 2 and 1.

Even now, don’t expect any big pep talks out of Pavin, a stoic personality throughout the week. He shrugged off the buildup to that great American comeback in 1999, when U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw said he was a believer in fate and added ominously, “I have a good feeling about this.”

“Ben’s Ben, and I’m me,” Pavin said. “I’m going to put the guys out in the order that I think gives us the best chance to win.”

If that doesn’t work, this will just be a European celebration delayed, not denied.

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