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

We've seen this before, and before, and before

Saturday, September 23, 2006 3:15 AM

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Stop me if you've heard this one. Nearly every match on the first day of the Ryder Cup went down to the wire. Then with points on the line, Europe played better and took a commanding lead. The Euro coaches and players talked about not getting ahead of themselves. Their U.S. counterparts spoke of how close the competition was, how the point totals could've been a different story with a good bounce here or a dropped putt there. And at the end of the day, Europe led.

This has been the Friday night bedtime story for the last decade. In this particular chapter, Europe leads the U.S. 5-3 with the first day now fast asleep. It's the fifth consecutive Cup in which the Yanks have trailed after the opening matches. Same story, umpteenth verse.

This has become golf's version of "Groundhog Day." Every other September, a band of European players comes out of the shadows and sees an American team that can't seem to consistently produce when it matters most. And it usually means two more years of Ryder Cup winter for the United States.

Perhaps the only difference this year is that the Europeans are, top to bottom, at least as good as the U.S., if not better. Case in point? Ian Woosnam used every one of his 12 players Friday, and each contributed something toward Europe's total. You get the feeling Woosie could squeeze half a point from the two guys in the Guinness commercials. Brilliant! There's no other way to describe Europe's team play over the last 10 Cups.

In the old days, Europe won by hiding the pack mules and riding the studs. Now, it's the American team wondering how to mix and match the Brett Wetterichs and Vaughn Taylors. Taylor's actually still waiting to tee it up. He didn't play Friday and wasn't in Tom Lehman's lineup for Saturday morning fourballs.

But you can't pin this latest Friday flop on the rookies. J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson earned as many points -- a whopping half -- as one of America's dynamic duos, Chris DiMarco and Phil Mickelson, who went 0-1-1, which is not bad if you're looking to dial internationally but stinks if it's your record at the end of Day 1.

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk's mark of 1-1 was barely better but not good enough from two of the top-three ranked players in the world. Furyk was the steadier of the two on Friday but that snapper he hit on 18 -- with a half-point hanging in the balance -- was, as of press time, still hooking.

The Americans' timing at the Ryder Cup is every bit as impeccable as Squiggy's. Remember when either Laverne or Shirley would say something like, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen," just as Squiggy walked through the door saying in that high-pitch whine, "Hellaw." It's not that the U.S. side never hits good shots; they just don't hit enough of them when there's no margin for error.

If we're assigning each team a '70s TV character, the Euros favor Vinnie Barbarino when it comes to blows in that they tend to be a bit braver in a pack. Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, who beat Woods and Furyk Friday afternoon, may as well have been yelling, "Hey, Carvelli! Ya mutha! Ya mutha!" These are the same guys who were wholly skewered by Tiger in the final rounds of the last two majors of the year, respectively.

But this isn't a major. It's the Ryder Cup. And until they make the entire competition a series of singles or the U.S. learns to play better as a team, there may not be many Happy Days anytime soon.

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