Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Michael Jordan was happy to see former President George Bush, another golf fanatic. (Photo: Getty Images)

Notebook: Jordan's Ryder Cup interest is a slam dunk

Former Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan spent part of Monday following his buddy Tiger Woods. Plus, Stewart Cink almost turns a good day into a great one, the players weren't the only nervous folks, and more.

September 22, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- He is considered one of the greatest to ever play his sport, and certainly one of the most clutch performers. And he was standing around the tee box at The K Club, never too far from Jim Furyk.

Michael Jordan is becoming a regular visitor at the Ryder Cup.

The former Chicago Bulls star spent most of his day following Woods, a close friend and kindred spirit. Jordan referred to the Ryder Cup as "like the Olympics" for Woods, although golf's No. 1 player hardly has been part of a Dream Team.

"He tries real hard. He wants to be a great leader. He wants to play well," Jordan said. "People want to make excuses for him not playing well, but he never makes excuses. He values this competition."

Jordan, allowed inside the ropes with a TV pass, picked up Woods as his morning fourball match made the turn. Woods had struggled, but then made consecutive birdies to stake he and Furyk to a lead they never gave up.

"It doesn't take much to get him going," Jordan said. "He was off to a slow start, but that doesn't stop him. It's hard to break his spirit. He's been there many times."

OH, SO CLOSE: Stewart Cink and David Howell were each a cruel inch or two from turning a nice day into a great one.

Paired against each other in the afternoon foursome matches, they had almost identical looks at birdie putts that would have won their match on the 18th hole.

Howell's peaked at the hole and barely slid by, causing the Brit to flip his putter in the air in despair. A second later, Cink barely missed and looked heavenward and smiled.

They wound up halving the best-played match of an afternoon in which every match came down to the 18th hole. It was a match that included eight birdies and only a single bogey, one in which neither team took more than a one-hole lead.

"It was a great game," Howell said. "A bit of a roller coaster, but a great game."

For Cink, the day ended with two matches, two ties, one point for the Americans.

"I played almost exactly the same, both morning and afternoon," he said. "Felt pretty good all the way, and you know, I haven't won yet, but I haven't lost, either."

AMERICANS AGAINST THE ODDS: Bookmakers have shortened the odds on Europe winning the Ryder Cup to 4-9 after Ian Woosnam's team finished the opening day with a 5-3 lead over the United States. That compares with 5-6 before a ball was hit.

American odds went up from 11-10 to 21-10.

Punters also believe Sergio Garcia will be the star of this Ryder Cup, installing him at 6-1 to finish with a perfect record.

NO SHOW: The only shots hit by Scott Verplank and Vaughn Taylor came on the practice range.

Taylor has not been playing well during practice, hitting one 3-wood that barely got off the ground. But Verplank's absence was a surprise, particularly because he was a captain's pick.

Why pick him if you're not going to use him?

"That's a question for Tom," Verplank said while taking a break hitting chips.

Verplank went 2-1-0 in his only other Ryder Cup, and he is best suited for alternate shot as the straightest hitter on the team. With preferred lies in effect because of the soggy course, it would have been a safe bet that his partner would be using a clean ball.

Lehman did not answer directly about sitting out Verplank, only saying he liked the teams he had. Verplank, too, was diplomatic.

"As an individual, I'm disappointed I'm not playing, especially alternate shot," he said. "As a team player, he's the captain, the coach, the man in charge. I'll go with whatever he wants to do."

Verplank suffered a minor back injury three weeks ago, but he looked solid during practice. Asked if his back was hurting, Verplank replied, "No. It feels great."

It was the first time since 1999 that an American sat out the first day. Steve Pate, another captain's pick, and Mark O'Meara did not play until Saturday at The Country Club.

And Lehman did say both would play on Saturday. Verplank is going out with rookie Zach Johnson in the morning fourballs, while Taylor is again scheduled to sit out. If he plays Saturday, it will be in the afternoon foursomes.

NERVOUS OPENING: The players weren't the only people who showed some nerves on the first tee.

Ivor Robson, the baritone Brit who for years has served as the official starter of the British Open, was on the first tee at The K Club when he cleared his throat and announced the first session of matches as foursomes.

Oops. The first round was fourballs.

"It even got to Ivor," Colin Montgomerie said of the pressure. "That shows you what it felt like."

The pressure also got to Tiger Woods. He took a divot with his fairway metal and hooked his opening shot into a pond.

DIVOTS: Playing with Jim Furyk meant Tiger Woods had a familiar Ryder Cup face in his group -- Mike "Fluff" Cowan, who was Woods' caddie when he made his debut at Valderrama in 1997, works for Furyk now. ... Furyk won a fourball match for the first time in the Ryder Cup. ... Mickelson is 1-6-1 in his last eight matches at the Ryder Cup. ... Among those in the gallery was former President Bush, a regular at Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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