Some clutch play by former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar earned the only American half-point of the day on Sunday. (Getty Images)

Cink and Kuchar provide glimmer of hope on otherwise dreary day for Team USA

Georgia Tech alums Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar prevented a European clean sweep on Sunday, and Steve Eubanks notes that they’ll occupy key slots in the Monday singles.

By Steve Eubanks, Special to

NEWPORT, Wales -- Even though Corey Pavin’s squad led in points, things looked bleaker than the gray Welsh skies when Team USA got into position to resume the delayed combo-second-and-third session on Sunday. Six matches were under way and Europe led in all six. The scoreboard looked like the Boise State football field, a sea of royal blue. And there were plenty of scoreboards on the course. Colin Montgomerie made sure of that, commanding officials to show fewer video highlights on the jumbo screens and more scores. 

“All of the scoreboards now read blue, instead of the scoreboards on the right-hand side that you really could not get a hang of what was going on,” Monty said. “We've gone back, really, to the 2002 situation where the scoreboards are blue and that gives everybody a lift.” 

That color scheme rarely changed throughout the day. Tiger Woods took his biggest thumping in a Ryder Cup, losing with Steve Stricker in a foursomes match to Lee Westwood and Luke Donald by the whopping margin of 6 and 5. Not long after that, the Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell added another point, beating Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan 3 up in the other foursomes match.

Then came the fourballs, where the Americans got a little momentum in mid-afternoon, but not enough. The only bright spot for the Americans and the only team that ever led on Sunday was the Georgia Tech alums: Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. They went 1 up on the Molinari brothers with four birdies in five holes from the ninth through the 13th. 

“Matt Kuchar and Stewart Cink: brilliant,” Montgomerie said. “Matt Kuchar as a Ryder Cup rookie, you wouldn't have known that. Stewart Cink is the only player ever to be selected three times, I believe, as a captain's pick. There's a big reason for that. Superb player, Stewart Cink, and a fabulous putter. In match play, a good putter is always dangerous.” 

Despite their brilliance, a clutch short birdie by Francesco Molinari on the 18th hole squared the match and left the Europeans undefeated in all six of the late-Saturday all-day Sunday matches. 

It was a brutal beating. 

Before play resumed on Sunday, Monty said, “Anything beyond 8-all is a bonus. If we can take a lead into the singles: great. If we can get back to -all: great. To win a session 4-2 nowadays with the closeness of competition is fantastic. We have an opportunity, yes, to go ahead, only an opportunity. We haven't taken it yet.”

Not only did the Europeans take it, they went from a 6-4 deficit at lunch to a 9½ - 6½ lead before dinner. 

There were very few American highlights. Jeff Overton continued his great play, holing out for an eagle at the par-4 eighth and Rickie Fowler holed a bunker shot for eagle at the 11th. Other than that and the odd Cink/Kuchar birdie, nobody on the American squad made anything happen.

Nothing will make the highlight reel from either the world No. 1 or the No. 2-ranked player in the game. Woods continued to fight his swing, his putting stroke and his potty mouth. Where late Saturday night he was too tired to curse, he made up for it on Sunday with a few doozies from George Carlin’s list. Mercifully, Donald and Westwood won before the bleep-button operator passed out from exhaustion.

Phil Mickelson didn’t utter any audible bad words, but maybe he should have. Not even a new partner could turn around the Mickelson Malaise. After fighting back from 3 down to square his match with partner Fowler with a birdie on the 13th, Mickelson three-putted 14 and missed a short birdie putt on 15, both resulting in losses, which all but sealed the deal for Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer.  

With that loss, Mickelson’s career 17th, he became the biggest loser in Ryder Cup history. Granted, you have to be a great player to have competed in 33 Ryder Cup matches as Mickelson has, but making it to the dance doesn’t mean much if you spill your drink on your date. Mickelson enters the singles competition on Monday with a lowly 10-17-6 record, and has won only two of his last 18 matches. Despite having more experience than any player on the U.S. team, he has only been on two winning teams, and has never won the Ryder Cup on foreign soil.   

“I'm surprised at that fact, 17 losses,” Monty said. “But at the same time, you know how I rate Phil Mickelson as a golfer. Phil started, I believe, in 1995 at Oak Hill and has played every one since. It's just the luck of the draw how the players play against you. I think that the Europeans have been up playing against Phil Mickelson because of the stature of Phil Mickelson. I think we have given it an extra effort because it has been him.” 

Corey Pavin agreed with that assessment, saying of Mickelson’s record, “Well, he's played in the most Ryder Cups, as well, for us. He's played a lot of matches. I think he's playing hard, he's playing the best he can and he's been in good position. You know, he's had a few 6-footers that were very key putts, and if he makes those, it's a different result. That's the way match play is, just a little of this or that. I've seen Phil make some pretty important putts in his career. He's won 38 times and four major championships. He's a pretty good player.”  

Pavin might say he has all the confidence in the world, but he hid Mickelson in the historically dead 10th spot in singles, where he will take on Peter Hanson.

Whom did Pavin put out in the first half to go against two of Europe’s strongest studs? Cink will take on Rory McIlroy in the second game out and Kuchar will play in the crucial fifth spot against Ian Poulter. 

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