US Stars Not Shining Once Again

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36th Ryder Cup MatchesSTRAFFAN, Ireland -- It's a lesson they should have learned in preschool. Somehow, though, it's hard to imagine Phil Mickelson or Tiger Woods coming home with a smiley-face sticker for playing well with others.
 
Grown-ups get points for doing just that in the Ryder Cup.
 
Mickelson and Woods won't be going home with many of those. Barring a Brookline-like miracle, they won't be carrying the Ryder Cup with them, either.
 
Phil Mickelson
Phil Mickelson may be looking for a place to hide this week.
Often brilliant as individuals, the United States' best just can't seem to find a way to play with each other. It happens every time, despite the best efforts of any number of American captains to figure out a solution.
 
Mickelson and Chris DiMarco were a disaster. Woods and Jim Furyk looked more like journeymen than the top two players in the world.
 
Captain Tom Lehman didn't send either to the corner for a time out. Perhaps he should have, because when your stars take a pounding, the rest of team begins getting queasy.
 
Especially when the rest of that team isn't as good as the rest of the other team.
 
'You don't like looking up there and seeing your superstar teams getting it handed to them,' Scott Verplank said.
 
That must have made the sight of Mickelson especially scary. Here's a guy who won the Masters, should have won the U.S. Open and is arguably the best player in the world whose first name is not Eldrick.
 
When Lefty left the course Saturday afternoon, though, here's the grand total he contributed in four matches -- one half of one point.
 
Let's put that in perspective. Vaughn Taylor is a Ryder Cup rookie and thought to be the weakest link on this team coming in. He played in one match -- and won the same half-point as Mickelson.
 
You might have thought Lehman would sit Mickelson down as his struggles became more apparent. You might have thought that, but Lehman apparently didn't.
 
He didn't even consider it.
 
'No,' was the short answer.
 
Lehman, of course, plays golf for a living. The captain thing is a part-time gig that will end sometime early Sunday evening. By all accounts, he has tried his best to make a go of it and win his country a Ryder Cup.
 
So maybe we shouldn't be so harsh. But there comes a time to cut your losses, and Lehman just couldn't bring himself to do it.
 
It's not because Lehman is too nice of a guy, because he didn't mind telling Verplank as he played the 13th hole Saturday that he was reneging on a promise to play him twice. And it's not like he didn't see Mickelson imploding, because he's been out there watching for two days.
 
No, the American team has a star system. And Lehman decided long before he even got here that he was going to live and die with his stars.
 
That meant Mickelson played every match. It also meant Woods and Furyk were going to be joined at the hip for this Ryder Cup, no matter how many wayward shots they hit or short putts they missed.
 
Woods was the nearest thing to a lock inside five feet all year on the PGA Tour. But he missed a half dozen of those putts in his four matches. Even a win in the last match of the day couldn't disguise the fact that the American team got only two points from possibly the best player ever and the guy right behind him in the world rankings.
 
Do the math yourself. The top three players in the world combined for 2 1/2 points for the U.S. team. Sergio Garcia won four on his own for the Europeans.
 
You don't bench Woods, of course. But did Lehman ever think of splitting he and Furyk up?
 
'No.'
 
If Lehman's pairings seemed uninspired, so did his team. The points weren't coming from the top, and the other guys couldn't help noticing.
 
Woods is 6-12-1 when playing with others, while Furyk is an even more anemic 3-11-1. Mickelson is 6-9-4, and 1-8-1 overall in his last 10 matches.
 
For some reason, the Europeans have no such problems with their best players. They enjoy the camaraderie of team play. They like hanging out together, and they enjoy winning together.
 
All the fist bumps and fist pumps the Americans exchange don't equal the warmth of one hug between the Euros. And when things go wrong, it's usually every American for himself.
 
'If you're out there and your partner misses a shot you know the only thing you do is just give them a laugh and just encouragement,' Garcia said. 'You don't give them any weird looks or anything. That's not the way to go, and that's not the way to win Ryder Cup.'
 
That was a thinly veiled jab at Woods, who does not suffer fools on the golf course easily, even if they're wearing the same uniform.
 
The Americans are getting used to taking punches in team play. They can't seem to play well together.
 
They will get no smiley faces this time around.
 
And they won't have any smiles on their faces on Sunday either.
 
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