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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 21, 2006

U.S. has uphill battle to take Ryder Cup from Europeans

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By Bill Kwon

The American players scatter on the eighth green in preparation for a practice round at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland.

Associated Press

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Site: Straffan, Ireland.

Schedule: Tomorrow through Sunday. Tomorrow and Saturday, four morning best-ball matches and four afternoon alternate-shot matches; Sunday, 12 singles matches.

Course: The K Club, Palmer Course (7,335 yards, par 72).

United States (c-captain’s pick): Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Chad Campbell, David Toms, Chris DiMarco, Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson, Brett Wetterich, c-Stewart Cink, c-Scott Verplank. Captain: Tom Lehman.

Europe: Luke Donald, England; Sergio Garcia, Spain; Henrik Stenson, Sweden; David Howell, England; Colin Montgomerie, Scotland; Robert Karlsson, Sweden; Padraig Harrington, Ireland; Paul Casey, England; Paul McGinley, Ireland; Jose Maria Olazabal, Spain; c-Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland; c-Lee Westwood, England. Captain: Ian Woosnam, Wales.

Series: United States leads 24-9-2.

Last CUP: Europe successfully defended in 2004 at Oakland Hills in Michigan, routing the United States 18›-9›. Garcia and Westwood were 4-0-1 for Europe

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As the old saying goes, there is no "i" in team. The same with golf, though there's a lot of "me" in the sport.

After all, golf is an individual sport in which every touring professional is basically an independent contractor, looking out for No. 1.

Which is why, perhaps, Americans haven't done well lately in the Ryder Cup, golf's ultimate team competition, which begins play for the 26th time tomorrow in Ireland.

It's hard to think as a member of a team for one week out of the year when you're trying to beat another individual's brains out the rest of the time.

The Ryder Cup is among the last great sporting events where prize money isn't what matters, only bragging rights. The golfers are playing for pride since no one gets paid except the favorite charities of the players involved.

With all the millions being played for on the PGA Tour these days, it's hard for the Americans to get up for the Ryder Cup or the President's Cup against the rest of the world in alternate years.

Besides, if you're Tiger Woods, would you want someone else hitting your next shot? Which is what occurs in the alternate ball format in one of the competitions.

The Europeans seem more motivated than the Americans as witness their record-setting victory (18 1/2 to 9 1/2) at Oakland Hills, Mich., in 2004. Team USA is now 1-4 in the past five Ryder Cups, and this year the Europeans will be the home team.

Much as I hate to say it, figure on the Europeans making it five out of six, even if the world's greatest golfer is leading our side.

Not that Tiger isn't a team player, but his Ryder Cup record is hardly inspiring at 7-11-2.

Consider that Europe's Colin Montgomerie is 19-8-5 but has yet to win a major, and it shows what a weird week Ryder Cup competition can be.

Sergio Garcia, the highest ranked player on the European team at No. 8, also hasn't won a major. But he plays lights out when it comes to the Ryder Cup, with a 10-3-2 record. He won three of his team matches, tied one and then beat Phil Mickelson, 3 and 2, in the singles on the final day at Oakland Hills.

"We just live for this," Garcia said after the 2004 in-your-face romp.

Montgomerie and Garcia are back again along with David Howell, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Paul McGinley, Paul Casey and Darren Clarke, who were also on that victorious team.

Clarke and Westwood were added as captain's picks by Ian Woosnam, who should, if nothing else, keep his team looser than U.S. captain Tom Lehman.

Casey comes to the Ryder Cup with $1.88 million in his hip pocket, after winning the World Match Play Championship at Wentworth, England, on Sunday.

Besides playing in Ireland, what makes the American team definite underdogs, are the four rookies that Lehman has been dealt Vaughn Taylor, Brett Wetterich, J.J. Henry and Zach Campbell.

What to do with them in team competition will be Lehman's biggest headache. Whatever the case, don't ever team any of them in the alternate-ball format with Tiger. Imagine the pressure hitting what should be Tiger's next shot.

Golf analyst Mark Rolfing of Maui, who will be with the NBC team televising the Ryder Cup, is predicting a tie at best for the USA.

"On paper, Europe is a heavy favorite but I think we have a chance," Rolfing said. "I expect Tiger to play well. The key is for the rookies to come through."

Rolfing said that Ireland's prime minister calls the Ryder Cup at the K Club in Kildare County "the biggest sporting event in the history of his country."

Added Rolfing, "I can't imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like or how raucous the crowds will be for the Europeans."

The fans might be rooting against them, but the Americans are fortunate in that the K Club, designed by Arnold Palmer, is more of an American-style course that they are used to, according to Rolfing.

"That should help. It's not like they'll be playing at more typical Irish courses like Ballybunion or Portmarnock," he said.

Otherwise, he wouldn't give the Americans any chance.

Besides, there's that thing called team chemistry.

The Europeans seem to come up with it at Ryder Cup time. But for the Americans, it's hard to generate any kind of team chemistry, especially if they're not team oriented.