Ryder Cup Role Reversal

By Associated PressSeptember 16, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTAFFAN, Ireland -- One team has never enjoyed such depth, with seven players in the top 20 and none lower than No. 52.
 
The other?
 
Tough at the top, but carrying four rookies whose names would barely be recognized by their mailman.
 
It's the same old story at every Ryder Cup, with one delicious twist.
 
Tom Lehman
Captain Tom Lehman's team goes into the Ryder Cup as the decided underdogs.
The roles are reversed.
 
Underdogs no more, all eyes are on Europe to extend this era of dominance over the Americans when the Ryder Cup gets under way Friday at The K Club in what is expected to be the biggest sporting event ever in Ireland.
 
The Europeans used to have a chip on their shoulder. Now they hoist a 17-inch gold cup proudly over their heads, having captured the Ryder Cup four of the last five times and seven of the last 10.
 
Colin Montgomerie, who has won more Ryder Cup points than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined, referred to this European team as the strongest assembled in some time.
 
And that wasn't a boast.
 
'No, that's just pure fact,' he said. 'If (captain) Ian Woosnam had picked all 12, he wouldn't have gotten very far from where we are. We are a good team. We hope to be the first European team to win three times in a row. We'd love to be part of that.'
 
There is nothing to suggest that won't happen.
 
Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the Europeans embarrassed Woods and Mickelson on their way to an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory, their largest margin since the Ryder Cup began in 1927. The time before that, they hammered the Americans in singles -- a U.S. birthright in golf -- to win at The Belfry.
 
Never mind that the Americans counter with a 1-2-3 punch of Woods, Jim Furyk and Mickelson, the top three players in the world ranking. Or that Americans have captured 20 of the last 28 major championships since their last Ryder Cup victory in 1999.
 
Raise the flags, play the national anthems, and Europe turns into a world beater.
 
'This year, we are definitely the underdogs,' Woods said.
 
It could lead to some interesting dynamics over three days of golf's most intense competition.
 
Europe long has rallied around the perceptions that its players are inferior, and that its tour is like a second-class citizen. They have played the underdog card for so long, and so effectively, that they now are trying to convince everyone they have no chance.
 
Having won seven of the last 10 times, it hasn't been easy.
 
'I think the U.S. team is up for it,' Padraig Harrington said. 'They're going to go in with the same attitude that Europe has gone into the two times, trying to prove a point.'
 
That's not the only turnaround.
 
Team spirit appears to be strong in the U.S. camp. The 12 players looked like a team for the first time when all of them -- Woods and Mickelson included after rearranging their schedules -- took a charter flight to Ireland at the end of August for two days of practice at The K Club and general goofing around.
 
That caught Europe's attention.
 
'We know the Americans have come over to The K Club, first time ever the American team has traveled before the event as 12,' Montgomerie said. 'They mean business, and so do we.'
 
Woods was criticized in 2002 for practicing at dawn on his own, before the rest of his team had breakfast. Two years ago, Mickelson decided not to practice on Wednesday, and the day before the Ryder Cup was found practicing on the adjacent course.
 
Now, the turmoil in the weeks leading up to the Ryder Cup falls to Europe.
 
Montgomerie criticized Jose Maria Olazabal for skipping the final qualifying event in Europe.
 
'It surprised us all that he's not here -- someone who lives for the Ryder Cup,' Monty said in Germany.
 
European captain Ian Woosnam has been criticized for not keeping his players in the loop during the summer, and it led to angry words from Thomas Bjorn when he found out he had been left off the team while watching television in a bar.
 
What could give Europe a rallying point is having Darren Clarke back on the team.
 
Clarke has been playing under constant turmoil the last two years as his wife, Heather, battled cancer that spread throughout her body and finally claimed her life on Aug. 10, leaving behind two young children. Clarke, from Northern Ireland, stopped playing after the British Open and did not return until the Madrid Masters this weekend.
 
It will be emotional, no doubt, to see him line up with the European team and play for continental pride before an Irish crowd.
 
'I wouldn't be playing if I thought it would hurt the team,' Clarke said this week from Spain, his voice choking. 'Heather was always very much behind me all this time, kicking me out of the house to go and play in tournaments. She would have wanted me to play.'
 
Clarke is close to the Americans, too, especially Woods. They played together a few times over the last year, sharing thoughts over coping with death. Woods' father, Earl, died in May after a lengthy battle with cancer and Woods took more than two months off, returning at the U.S. Open and missing the cut for the first time in a major.
 
'It will be great for him to play,' Woods said. 'It will be fantastic for him to have teammates around him. I still think it's going to be hard because every player has his wife there, and it's going to be hard in that environment at times. He knows that. But you have to deal with it one day, and it might as well be now. He was playing well when all this happened.'
 
Clarke was among five rookies for Europe in 1997 that contributed eight points to another victory over the Americans, a scene that has become familiar over the years. Philip Walton won the decisive match in 1995 at Oak Hill, and Paul McGinley delivered the clinching putt at The Belfry four years ago.
 
Now, these unknowns play for the Stars & Stripes.
 
The United States revamped its qualifying process for this Ryder Cup with hopes of getting players at the top of their games going into the matches. With the points at quadruple value this year, all it took was for a few players to get hot, and that's what happened.
 
But no one expected it to be Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich. Two of them (Taylor and Wetterich) have never competed in match play at any level. Wetterich had never met Woods until the week after he made the team.
 
Advantage Europe? Not necessarily.
 
'The unknown is never welcomed in any situation,' Montgomerie said. 'The rookies in the past on these Ryder Cups, on both teams, have performed actually quite well. Who knows what to expect?'
 
None of the rookies has any experience in such a pressure-packed event like the Ryder Cup. Then again, experience has been more like scar tissue for a U.S. team that usually goes home without the trophy.
 
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

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    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

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    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


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    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

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    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.