Europeans Wear the Underdog Label Well


04 Ryder CupBLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Don't look for Hal Sutton to repeat the classic introduction Ben Hogan gave during the flag-raising ceremony for the 1967 Ryder Cup.
'Ladies and gentlemen,' Hogan said solemnly, 'I present the American team - the 10 greatest golfers in the world.'
For one thing, there are now 12 golfers per side. For another, it would be farfetched for a U.S. captain of this generation to claim his team has a monopoly on the world's best players.
That said, the Americans find themselves in a familiar role. They are the clear favorites, with star power and major championships that can't be matched by the Europeans. The world rankings are more ammunition for those who expect Oakland Hills Country Club to be the scene of a red, white and blue celebration this weekend.
35th Ryder CupAnd this being the Ryder Cup, it doesn't mean a thing.
'Being underdogs doesn't mean we're going to lose,' European star Sergio Garcia said. 'Being underdogs means that on paper, they are better than us. You've just got to look at the world rankings. That definitely says something.'
Granted, the world rankings are a hodgepodge of complicated formulas, mind-numbing idiosyncrasies and questionable criteria that make the BCS look like a model of simplicity.
Even so, three Americans - No. 2 Tiger Woods, No. 4 Phil Mickelson and No. 6 Davis Love III - show up in the rankings before the first European, No. 8 Padraig Harrington, makes an appearance.
Five more U.S. players are in the top 20. Only three of Harrington's teammates can make such a claim. The lowest-rated American is No. 59 Fred Funk. The Europeans have four players at 60 and below.
Still need convincing? The Americans have 12 major titles on their respective mantels, eight of them won by Woods. No one on the European team has even one major victory, the first time that's happened since 1981.
'We have come into the matches as underdogs most of the time,' said Colin Montgomerie of Scotland, who has never lost a singles match at the Ryder Cup. 'I don't think this is any different. We're playing away from home and we're underdogs. We'll start that way and then, hopefully after about two hours, it might be different.'
If recent history is any indication, it's the Americans who are the decided underdogs.
Beginning in 1985, when Europe finally broke a 28-year drought, the guys from the other side of the Atlantic have won five times, halved another match to keep the Cup and lost only three matches.
Two years ago, the Europeans easily won - 15 1/2 points to 12 1/2 - with a lineup that, on paper at least, looked hopelessly outmatched by the U.S. firepower.
On the final day of singles, Montgomerie routed Scott Hoch, Harrington crushed Mark Calcavecchia, little-known Phillip Price easily beat Mickelson and Jesper Parnevik halved his match with Woods.
But singles isn't the European strength. They usually do their best work in the team portion - two rounds of alternate-shot and better-ball each of the first two days.
Only once in the last nine matches have the Americans been in the lead heading to the singles, leading to the perception that the United States has a collection of stars, the Europeans have a team.
That line of thinking was bolstered Wednesday when Mickelson took the day off, leaving the other 11 Americans to go through an 18-hole practice round with a pair of threesomes and an unwieldy fivesome.
The Europeans were grouped off in foursomes, all of them dutifully taking part. Even an American fan took note as Montgomerie, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and David Howell scurried around the 16th hole, trying to get a read on the steeply sloping green.
'I'd rather to go to the bar with those guys than anyone on the American team,' the spectator said.
Sutton said the show of individualism fits in with everything he's been preaching.
'Worry about yourself,' he said. 'If I get you to worry about you, and I get the best out of you, then it will come together as a team effort that could be brilliant.'
That's not the only change of pace.
Captains usually have a good idea about teams midway through the week and start putting those players together during practice so they can get comfortable with each other. Not Sutton, who is keeping his team in the dark until sometime before opening ceremonies Thursday.
The matches begin Friday morning.
'I told them I wasn't going to set the pairings for the practice rounds,' Sutton said. 'Be prepared to beat the other two guys by yourself, and if I give you a little help, that's a bonus. So they have no clue who they're going to play with. If they know who it is, they start worrying about their partner's game instead of worrying about their own game.'
Sutton is unlikely to reprise Hogan's brilliant touch of gamesmanship in 1967, which turned out to be right on the mark. The Americans romped to a 15-point victory, still the greatest margin in Ryder Cup history.
Sutton would gladly settle for a one-point victory.
Whatever it takes to get the Cup back on this side of the Atlantic.
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