Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland

Speaking of streaks ...

Sunday, September 24, 2006 4:17 PM

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- One streak is over. Another continues.

Moments after Europe clinched its third consecutive Ryder Cup, an unidentified and nearly naked spectator -- wearing nothing but a toothy grin and a well-placed patch of fur he'd mysteriously named "Corky" -- skipped across the 18th green, just as J.J. Henry was about to attempt a lengthy putt for a halve against Paul McGinley. In a remarkable act of sportsmanship, McGinley conceded Henry's putt to give each team a half-point. And in a remarkable act of both pubic and public indecency, the authorities apprehended the streaker and took him to his fate. Someone obviously forgot to tell Corky fourballs were yesterday.

But those shenanigans shouldn't obscure the naked truth: the European Ryder Cup team is better than the Americans. Period.

In 1985, when Europe won for the first time in nearly 30 years, it was an upset. In '87, when they won for the first time ever on American soil, it was historic. When they won today, making it three straight Cup victories for the first time ever, it proved the U.S. is simply no match in this competition.

Actually, the Americans got the score they wanted Sunday. But following the form of the last 20 years, they were on the wrong side of the ledger. Needing to win Sunday singles by at least a score of 8 1/2-3 1/2, the Yanks were beaten by that same score, en route to another rout, 18 1/2-9 1/2.

The U.S. remains winless in this millennium, and the prospects for turning the tide aren't promising. There are no Americans under 30 on this team. Europe has three, including Sergio Garcia, who's now played in four Cups by the age of 26.

Today had all the suspense of a metronome. Colin Montgomerie went out first for Europe and delivered, as he's done his entire Ryder Cup career. Monty birdied Nos. 3 and 4 to establish a lead he'd never surrender in a 1-up win over David Toms that kept him unbeaten in singles play (6-0-2).

Paul Casey, Luke Donald, Darren Clarke, Henrik Stenson, David Howell, Jose Maria Olazabal, and Lee Westwood took Montgomerie's lead with wins that slammed the door on any notion of a Brookline redux.

The scene at the 16th where Clarke closed out Zach Johnson was one of the most surreal I've ever been a part of. Not unlike the way Tiger emotionally unloaded when he won the British Open on the heels of his father's passing, Clarke let it all hang out once the outcome had been decided. Barely a month since the loss of his wife, Heather, Clarke had been carried all week on the shoulders of these raucous but well-behaved Irish galleries.

There were plenty of shoulders for Clarke to cry on from players wearing both uniforms. One of the first to congratulate him was U.S. Captain Tom Lehman. The two remained embraced for what must've been a full 60 seconds. When that was over, Tiger was waiting.

The hugs and tears won't be the only thing flowing at The K Club tonight. At least one celebrant got started early. But tonight at some jail cell in Dublin, Corky will drink alone.

Not the start the U.S. was looking for

8:40 AM

STRAFFAN, Ireland (third Green) -- "Go, Cinkie!" Stewart Cink turned to look at the bass voice who shouted encouragement to him as he walked down the second fairway. It was Michael Jordan. What a role reversal. Cink was playing for Georgia Tech when Jordan was becoming the world's greatest athlete. Now, Jordan was rooting him on. And it was working. Cink was outside Sergio Garcia on the first but won the hole when he made his birdie and Garcia missed.

I walked with Jordan for a minute or two and asked him if there was a U.S. comeback in the offing. He said, "Brookline, baby. Brookline," referring to the Americans' epic rally from the same 10-6 deficit they had this morning. I think Jordan and I connected in some small way. There was a certain look in his eye as security ordered me to the other side of the ropes. It's hard to explain.

Anyway, this wasn't the start the U.S. hoped for. Instead of a sea of red on the board, Europe took the early lead in three of the opening four matches. But then the Yanks fought back. Tiger Woods won the second to square his match with Robert Karlsson, who let Woods off the mat by missing a short birdie putt at 3. Tiger went on to birdie 4 and 5 to put a red flag on the board.

Still, to come back from a deficit this big, nearly everything has to break perfectly. And so far it hasn't. When I came back to file this report, the Euros led in four matches, the U.S. in three, with three others tied. My pants (with mud) and my mind (with memories of watching this spectacle in person) are equally and indelibly stained.

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