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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 26, 2002

Early signs point toward an American win

Longtime Maui resident Mark Rolfing, a TV golf analyst at the Ryder Cup, chronicles his observations of the tournament for The Advertiser.

By Mark Rolfing
Special to the Advertiser

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England —The first matches of the 34th Ryder Cup are just 24 hours away, and I think everyone is very eager to get started.

It's been three years since the matches at Brookline, and the postponement of the 2001 Ryder Cup, because of the events of 9/11, has definitely changed the overall feeling of the matches.

In fact, in most cases here, this event is still referred to as the 2001 Ryder Cup.

I expect a much different atmosphere than the one we saw in Boston. Certainly, once the matches get started, the crowds will liven up. But I don't think you will see much of the unruly behavior and in-your-face attitude that we saw at Brookline.

All signs that I see now point toward an American victory. Maybe even a lopsided victory. I just think our team — from top to bottom — is much stronger than the European side.

I think it was a mistake to keep the teams intact from 2001. There are a number of players among the 24 that are not in their best form. I think that will hurt the European team more.

At least, I believe, the captain's picks — of which each team has two — should have been able to be changed.

For example, European captain Sam Torrance would have taken Jose-Maria Olazabal, who is playing very well, instead of Jesper Parnevik, who is not.

The golf course set up at the Belfry is very interesting. Clearly, everything possible has been done to give the Europeans a home edge. Frankly, I think it may backfire. The fairways are extremely narrow, probably the narrowest I have ever seen in championship golf. Most average 18 yards across. The farther you get down the fairway, the narrower it gets, which I believe is intended to negate the power of the U.S. team.

But I believe what will happen is that everyone will be playing conservatively. Phil Mickelson told me that he may not hit a single driver all week.

America has some very straight hitters like Scott Hoch, Jim Furyk, David Toms, and others. And I believe they will be able to keep the ball in play just as well as the Europeans.

The areas around the green do not have any long rough and are primarily cut at fairway length, which means you will see a lot of chipping. Tiger Woods chips the ball better than any player in the world. And Mickelson is a very close second.

Strategy by the captains is going to be very interesting to watch. It appears to me that Curtis Strange has pretty much set his lineup for Friday morning. I expect to see the teams of Woods and Mark Calcavecchia, Mickelson and Toms, David Duval and Davis Love III, and Furyk and Hoch.

Strange has said that 12 will play at least one match Friday, which means Hal Sutton, Paul Azinger, Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank would appear Friday afternoon in the foursome matches.

Torrance has a dilemma. Will he pair Sergio Garcia, for example, with Parnevik, a team that was very successful three years ago? As was the team of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. Sam's problem is with both Parnevik and Westwood being out of form, he could lose both those matches. And he may be forced to put his strongest players together to get as many early points as possible.

For the Europeans to win, I believe they have to be ahead after the second day because I think the Americans will prevail in Sunday's 12 singles matches.