With champagne chilling, Europe pushes toward a triumph in Ryder Cup’s 1st Monday finish

By Paul Newberry, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

Europe tries to finish off a Ryder Cup triumph

NEWPORT, Wales — Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker have given the United States the first two points in singles, providing hope of an unprecedented road comeback at the Ryder Cup.

The Americans faced a daunting three-point deficit Monday after getting routed by Europe in the team matches, gaining only a half-point out of six.

But Johnson finally got his putter working, making four straight birdies for a 6-and-4 win over PGA champion Martin Kaymer. Seconds later, Stricker was conceded a gimme par at No. 17 to close out a 2-and-1 victory over Europe’s top-ranked player, Lee Westwood.

The two wins Monday have closed the gap to 9½-8½, but Europe is leading six of the 10 matches still on the course, which would be enough points to regain the cup.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEWPORT, Wales (AP) — Colin Montgomerie told his players to keep the pressure on. He told them to remember Brookline. He told them to win the singles, even though they didn’t need to.

Whatever it took to finish off a desperate American team that needed nothing less than its greatest road comeback.

Coming off one of the best performances in European golf history, the home team took a commanding lead into the closing day of the Ryder Cup, which needed extra time to finally turn sunny at soggy Celtic Manor.

Playing under brilliant blue skies, Europe got off to the strong start its captain was hoping for Monday, leading eight of the 12 matches early on. But American captain Corey Pavin had backloaded his lineup, putting Tiger Woods eighth and Phil Mickelson 10th, clearly hoping for a strong rally at the end.

Indeed, the Americans showed signs of life after their sluggish early play. Mickelson won the first four holes of his match with Peter Hanson, and the U.S. bounced back to lead in five and pull even in two others. Led by Ian Poulter’s 3-up advantage on Matt Kuchar, Europe was leading five matches — just the number of points it needed to win back the cup.

Woods got off to a rough start, losing the first two holes against Italy’s Francesco Molinari. Francesco’s older brother, Edoardo, was all-square with Rickie Fowler.

The Americans had to win 7½ points to keep the gold chalice they won at Valhalla two years ago, ending Europe’s run of three straight victories.

The U.S. overcame a 10-6 deficit on the final day at Brookline in 1999, but that match was played at home in front of unruly, pro-American crowds.

Europe had the fans on its side this time, even though many of them didn’t return for the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history, brought on by long delays. Still, the mini-stadium built around the first tee was packed as each of the singles began.

“You’ve got Big Mac, we’ve got Little Mac!” they chanted when 21-year-old Rory McIlroy approached the tee for his match against American Stewart Cink.

Mickelson couldn’t stop laughing when he noticed the fans letting out a “wooooo!” every time he went through a practice swing. He even obliged them with a few one-handed twirls of his driver.

A morning fog over the River Usk briefly delayed some of the early singles, but the skies cleared, the chilly conditions warmed up and most players stripped down to shirtsleeves out on the course — just the sort of day the Wales tourism board had been hoping for all week.

On Sunday, Europe routed Woods and Steve Stricker, gave Mickelson his 17th Ryder Cup loss (more than any other American player) and captured 5½ of a possible six points in the final session of team play. That turned a 6-4 lead for the U.S. into a 9½-6½ deficit.

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

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 that losing European team. “This isn’t as good of a position as then.”

Still, all signs pointed to the Europeans reclaiming the cup.

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 Kuchar were 1 up on the Molinaris 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.

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

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