Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image An emotional Darren Clarke of the European team receives a congratulatory hug from United States captain Tom Lehman after Clarke's 3-and-2 win Sunday at the K Club. (Photo: Getty Images)

Europe completes convincing Ryder Cup rout

Europe faced little resistance this week and cruised to its record third straight Ryder Cup victory over an American team loaded with stars but lacking the chemistry and cohesion needed to find success in a pressure-packed team competition such as this.

John L. Byrwa, Managing Editor
September 24, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- The only thing that didn't go according to plan for the Europeans this week at the K Club was having Darren Clarke make the winning putt. Instead, they had to settle for a convincing victory that resulted in an historic third straight loss for the overmatched United States.

Clarke, the Northern Irishman and sentimental favorite following the death on Aug. 13 of his wife, Heather, nearly got to make the time-honored Cup-clinching putt but Sweden's Henrik Stenson beat him to it with a 4-footer for par that closed out Ryder Cup rookie Vaughn Taylor 4 and 3 and sent the large, partisan gallery into a frenzy.

Stenson's putt gave the Europeans 15 points, one more than they needed to retain the Cup they've held since 1999. It is the first time in history that the Europeans have defeated the Americans three straight times in these biennial matches.

The final tally was 18 1/2-9 1/2, the same margin of victory the Europeans finished with after their win at Oakland Hills outside Detroit in 2004. The Europeans have now outscored the Americans 95-73 over the last six Ryder Cups, an average of nearly four points difference per contest.

"So many matches went down to the wire and it was tight for the most part," U.S. captain Tom Lehman said. "But I guess the European team just played better. At the end of the day, they played better."

The outcome could have been worse -- and a record-setting defeat for the Americans -- had Ireland's Paul McGinley not conceded a 25-foot birdie putt to J.J. Henry on the 18th hole, granting a half-point to his counterpart in a gesture of sportsmanship that has come to signify the Ryder Cup.

"I'll be speaking to Paul about that later," European captain Ian Woosnam jokingly said.

Clarke, a captain's pick by Woosnam, was sensational in the face of unimaginable emotion. His 3-and-2 win over rookie Zach Johnson gave Clarke a perfect 3-0 mark here and also was his first-ever singles victory.

And while the victory will go miles in cementing Europe as a clear-cut favorite when the 2008 matches move to Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Clarke, who was unsure if he would even play in the event and went nearly two months without playing following his wife's death, struggled to put into words what the victory and his experience here will mean for him personally.

"It's done a lot for me," Clarke, the father of two sons, Conor, 8, and Tyrone, 5. "It's done a lot for people to show me how much they care and how much they care about me. It's done a lot to show that they cared about Heather, and that means everything.

"To be here all week, my team have been unbelievable. The American guys have just been ... the support that they have shown me, and their wives, has just been incredible. And the crowd on Friday morning will be something I cherish forever."

Needing a miracle in Sunday's singles to break their Ryder Cup funk during which they have lost seven of the last 12 events, the Americans were looking to put some early pressure on the Europeans but it never materialized.

Despite a constant and sometimes heavy rain that fell on an already soggy Palmer Course, captain's pick Stewart Cink gave his teammates hope with a thorough 4-and-3 defeat of Sergio Garcia, handing the firey Spaniard his first loss of the week, but little else went right for the Americans.

"It goes back to momentum," said Chris DiMarco, a 2-up singles loser to England's Lee Westwood. "We just never got momentum. We were riding the wave, and we just never got over it. We just kept getting there. We'd get there and have a chance, and then by not doing it, it would take away the momentum and just never got into it."

Minutes after Cink closed out Garcia, Europe's Ryder Cup stalwart Colin Montgomerie did the same to David Toms with a birdie on the par-5 18th to win their match 1-up. The win kept the Scot unbeaten in singles play in eight Ryder Cups, upping his career record to an impressive 6-0-2. Montgomerie's 2 points here gave him 23 1/2 for his career and moved him into third place on Europe's all-time points list behind Nick Faldo (25) and Bernhard Langer (24).

Tiger Woods finally resembled his normal self against Robert Karlsson, but it was too little too late for the Americans. Woods lost the first hole to Karlsson's birdie but he won three of the next four holes and closed out the Swede with birdies on Nos. 15 and 16. But befitting the frustration of this Ryder Cup, Woods had to play the final 11 holes without his 9-iron after caddie Steve Williams slipped on a rock near the lake on No. 7 and dropped the club into the deep water.

In a small bit of consolation -- but telling of the problems the Americans have encountered since their last win at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. -- the 3 points Woods totaled this week represented his finest Ryder Cup effort in five events.

"We went out there, we played, and they just outplayed us," Woods said. "They made more putts than we did. When it comes right down to it, in all of these cups that I've been a part of, it's whoever plays 18 the best and whoever makes the most putts for the week. If you look at the way the matches went for the entire week, the Europeans did better on both of those occasions."

Afterward, Woods tried to explain how a second straight dominating loss feels.

"Not real happy," he said. "I believe, what am I, 1 and 3 or 1 and 4 in Ryder Cups? So, no, it doesn't sit well, nor should it."

Minutes after Woods' win, Paul Casey completed his 2-and-1 win over Jim Furyk with a long birdie putt to put Europe in prime position as the sun began to shine down on the soggy K Club. Then David Howell whipped rookie Brett Wetterich 5 and 4 seconds before Luke Donald made a 10-foot par putt on the 17th hole to defeat Chad Campbell 2 and 1 and give Europe the 14 points it needed to retain the cup.

Soon after that, Stenson made the putt to win the Ryder Cup for the Europeans for the fifth time in the last six editions of this biennial competition.

Trailing the Europeans 10-6 after a disappointing first two days, the Americans needed to win at least 8 1/2 points to take back the trophy they haven't held since 1999. That was the year the American's entered the final day trailing Europe by the same score and pulled off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, stunning the Europeans 14 1/2-13 1/2.

But there was no miracle finish in store. The Americans hardly had momentum on their side after losing each of the first four sessions by identical 2 1/2-1 1/2 margins, with none of the top players stepping to forefront.

Before Sunday, world No. 1 Woods and No. 2 Furyk, Woods' partner in the first four matches, contributed 2 points with just one victory each, while Mickelson added just a half-point. Toms and DiMarco also earned just a half-point each. The only other Americans with more than one point were Cink, with 1 1/2, and surprising rookie Johnson, also with 1 1/2.

"I don't know what to say. Obviously I expected to play to get more points than a half," said Mickelson, a 2-and-1 loser to Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal on Sunday. "But I felt like we were in every match. I felt like we had chances on every match to win, to get momentum, and things just didn't go our way."

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