Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Tiger Woods just couldn't get the putts to drop on Saturday. (Photo: AP)

Americans lament the shots that got away from them

On eight occasions, U.S. players missed costly putts inside of 10 feet, any or all of which could have helped change the momentum. And though distressed over the opportunities lost, they know they still have a chance to win.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor
September 23, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Heading into Sunday's singles at the 2006 Ryder Cup, the board shows the Europeans leading 10-6. What it doesn't show is that the Americans had plenty of chances for that deficit to be far smaller.

On eight occasions, the Americans missed costly putts inside of 10 feet. And it wasn't just the inexperienced Ryder Cup players, guys you might expect to miss short ones under pressure.

Tiger Woods missed a four-foot birdie putt at the ninth in the morning fourball that would have gained a hole for he and partner Jim Furyk. Instead, they stayed 2-down. Later in the match, Woods missed a six-foot birdie attempt that would have given the U.S. a halve. Instead, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood grabbed hold of a dominating 3-up lead.

Though losing that match, Woods and Furyk redeemed themselves with a win in the afternoon foursomes session, where their putting was much better.

"We made the putts [in the afternoon] and we haven't done that as a team this week," Woods said. "We've had our opportunities. I've had plenty of chances, and I have not made a putt until this afternoon. I finally started feeling better about my stroke and holed a couple. Jim holed a few as well. So it was nice to see putts go in instead of lipping out."

On the first hole in the afternoon foursomes, Stewart Cink missed a 10-footer for par that would have given the Americans early confidence and an early lead. Instead, it foreshadowed what would be the worst beating of these Ryder Cup matches -- a 5 & 4 victory for Paul Casey and David Howell.

Cink wasn't the only goat for the U.S. in this particular match -- not even by a long shot. Ryder rookie Zach Johnson, who was outstanding for the U.S. in the morning session as he won his first match, lost his magic touch with the putter in the afternoon.

"It was an emotional high and an emotional low and I really don't have much else to say," Johnson said of his day.

He blew a four-footer at No. 4 for a halve that put the Euros 2-up; missed a five-footer to win the 11th, allowing the Euros to keep a 4-up advantage; and finally there was a trunk-slamming four-footer to win the hole at No. 13 that skidded past the cup. That made the Europeans dormie and allowed them to add insult to injury when Casey aced the 14th to close out the match.

"No," Johnson answered when asked if he got anything to drop in the afternoon. "It was unfortunate. Stewart played great."

The most devastating miss of all, may have been the 10-footer J.J. Henry slipped past the cup at No. 18 that would have won his morning match with Cink against Casey and Robert Karlsson. The putt wasn't easy -- a downhiller with a few inches of break -- but it made for a three-putt, allowing Europe to win the hole and halve the match.

"I can't dwell. Again, it wasn't like it was an easy putt I had down that hill," Henry said. "I hit a great drive and a good second shot. I thought I hit a good putt there for birdie, too, but it just didn't go in. I'm proud of the way I finished."

Last, but not least, rookie Vaughn Taylor missed a five-footer for birdie to win the 16th hole. How crucial was that putt? The Americans won the 17th hole to get all-square and the match ended that way. Had Taylor's putt dropped in, the U.S. could have racked up a much-needed full point.

The Americans have their work cut out for them now. They will need 8 1/2 points in the 12 singles matches on Sunday for an unlikely win. It has been done before, though. The U.S. entered the Sunday singles trailing 10-6 in 1999, but miraculously came back to get the win.

U.S. Captain Tom Lehman, Woods, Furyk and Phil Mickelson were all on that '99 team that former Captain Ben Crenshaw famously had a good feeling about. How is Lehman feeling about his team's chances?

"I know that our team has a chance and I know that we have the ability to get the job done, and I know that our guys are determined to do it," he said. "So do I have a feeling? I have a feeling that our team is going to play incredibly inspired golf tomorrow.

"They are going to go out, and no matter who they are playing against, they are going to lay it on the line, they are going to give it all they got. They are going to make our team proud, they are going to make our wives proud and they are going to make our country proud and they are going to give it their very best."

Copyright 2006 PGA.com. All rights reserved.

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