Hopes fading fast for misfiring U.S.
Hoping to close the gap on the Europeans after a deflating Friday, the Americans instead watched it grow to a seemingly insurmountable margin following an utterly disasterous Saturday at the K Club.
John L. Byrwa, Managing Editor
September 23, 2006
STRAFFAN, Ireland (AP) -- Tom Lehman gently pressed his index finger against pursed lips, calculating the best-case scenario for an American team that kept settling for the worst in the Ryder Cup.
And then it got even worse.
Luke Donald crouched to his knees as his 25-foot birdie putt broke toward the 16th hole and disappeared for a birdie that sent Europe another point, setting off another roar at The K Club that shattered Lehman's thoughts.
But not his hopes.
When two days of Ryder Cup matches ended late Saturday afternoon, Lehman and his American team, down 10-6, were reduced to clinging to memories -- seven-year-old snapshots of the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
At Brookline, the Americans trailed Europe then by the same margin. Then, too, they were led by Lehman, who won the opening singles match as a player that day.
"I know that our team has a chance," said Lehman, now the U.S. captain.
So do the Europeans -- a chance to make history with their third consecutive victory, a chance for Sergio Garcia to be the first European to pitch a shutout, a chance to prove once and for all they have a better team.
This weekend, it's the Europeans who are making the memories.
Garcia extended his Ryder Cup unbeaten streak to nine matches, Darren Clarke delivered another storybook finish and Paul Casey showed with one magical shot -- a walkoff hole-in-one -- just how much everything is going their way.
The Europeans needed only four points from 12 singles matches remaining to capture the cup, and an outright victory would be the first time Europe has won three in a row.
"We're getting closer to our mark," captain Ian Woosnam said. "We've got to get over our hurdle tomorrow."
The way the first two days have gone, the Sunday singles matches might look like a mere speed bump.
They have won each of the four sessions by the same score (21/2-11/2) and in the same manner. They post European blue numbers on the board early, then ride the momentum of a team that has never been this strong.
"We don't want to go out there thinking, 'Let's get 41/2 points,' because that's not the way to go," Garcia said. "We want to go out there and win the singles, get as many points as we can."
The Americans were in such shambles that Vaughn Taylor, a rookie who didn't see his first Ryder Cup action until Saturday afternoon, contributed as many points -- a half-point -- as Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
Though Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk earned a late victory Saturday, it was the familiar score that inspired U.S. hopes.
Seven years ago at Brookline, Mass., they also trailed 10-6 and faced long odds. They stacked their best players at the front of the lineup, then staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history for a 141/2-131/2 victory.
"Our team does not feel this is over by any stretch of the imagination," Lehman said. "We know that we have to play our best golf tomorrow. And we think we can do that."
Sunday, he will send David Toms out against Colin Montgomerie with Woods in the fourth spot.
Trouble is, the best players are on the other team.
Garcia teamed with Jose Maria Olazabal for a 3-and-2 victory in fourballs over Mickelson and DiMarco, then joined Luke Donald in beating Mickelson and David Toms on the 17th hole in foursomes. Garcia has never trailed in the 66 holes he has played this week, and a victory Sunday would make him the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup.
The Americans have won only three of the first 12 matches -- two by Woods and Furyk, the other by Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank, the latter playing his one and only match.
"It's imperative we as a team get off to a quick start, just like we did in '99," Woods said. "Hopefully, we can do the same tomorrow. The Europeans are playing great. We have to beat them. They're not going to give it to us."
Indeed, all they have to carry them along are memories.
Lehman, however, didn't wag his finger at reporters and say, "I have a good feeling about this," the way Ben Crenshaw did in 1999. Nor does he have the same props in place. President Bush -- then the governor of Texas -- was at Brookline and delivered an inspirational speech about the Alamo on the eve of the final round.
The biggest difference is the strength of the European team. At Brookline, three European rookies never played a match until Sunday singles -- sent out against the United States' best. This time, Europe has used all 12 of its players at least twice, and all have earned points.
"That wasn't 10-6," Montgomerie said of the '99 score. "That was 10-9 overnight. We had three rookies that not played before, and they happened to draw the three top Americans. ... So I don't want any comparisons with the score line of 10-6 as it was in 1999. This is a very, very different situation."
Perhaps the best comparisons are to Oakland Hills. Not only did Europe dominate two years ago, the U.S. captain was on the defensive about some peculiar decisions.
Hal Sutton was criticized then for putting Woods and Mickelson together. This time, Lehman left people wondering why he used a captain's pick on Verplank, then used him only once. J.J. Henry came through in the clutch in both his fourball matches, only to have Lehman leave him on the bench in the afternoon. Lehman also took three matches -- two losses and a halve -- to figure out the Mickelson-DiMarco pairing was ineffective.
Then again, Europe had a lot to do with that.
Garcia has not lost in nine matches, an unbeaten streak that matches Olazabal for the longest in European history. Arnold Palmer holds the Ryder Cup record by going 12 matches in a row without losing.
The closest Garcia came Saturday was in the afternoon alternate-shot match, all square until Toms hit into the water on the 15th hole. The Americans were poised to tie the match on the par-5 16th, however, when Garcia drove into the rough, and Donald chipped out into a muddy patch of grass. Fearless as ever, Garcia went over the River Liffey and right at the flag, finding the green.
Donald dropped the putt, which Lehman probably should have expected.
"Those putts for us. ... we're due to start making them," Lehman said.
There was nothing he could do to stop Casey, who used a 4-iron from 213 yards on the 14th hole with he and David Howell already 4 up against Johnson and Stewart Cink. The Irish fans were in a frenzy when the shot landed about 3 feet short of the cup, and they were euphoric when it rolled to the edge and dropped on the last turn.
"It's going to be expensive," Casey said, referring to a tradition of buying drinks for the house.
Then again, he won $1.88 million last week at the World Match Play Championship. Someone asked whether the ace or the 1 million pounds meant more. He paused, then looked over at his teammates.
"What would mean more is the team ... to go out there and win the singles," Casey said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
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