The Most Important Match

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. ' It will, if it comes to pass, be the dream match-up of a Ryder Cup that begins with alternate shot here Friday morning at Valhalla Golf Club.
 
It will be a pairing that will give the Americans and the Europeans, for a compelling variety of reasons, an opportunity for a win that will count one point in the standings and immeasurably more in the confidence column.
 
Im talking about the first foursomes match Friday morning. Tee time: 8:05 ET.
 
Im talking about Kentucky native sons Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes vs. the stalwart Euro tandem of Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia.
 
Im talking about a match that would almost certainly go a long way toward setting a tone for the 27 matches to follow.
 
A little history: At the 2004 Ryder Cup, played at Oakland Hills, American captain Hal Sutton obdurately insisted on mixing oil and water when he paired Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in the first match on the first day. European captain Bernard Langer countered with Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.
 
Harrington and Montgomerie silenced a Detroit sports crowd itching to explode with a 2-and-1 victory that the Americans, arguably, never recovered from en route to an 18 - 9 defeat.
 
I think it helped the guys behind and we felt it was almost worth a bit more than a point to beat Phil and Tiger, Montgomerie said afterward.
 
Langer echoed the sentiment almost verbatim. We always felt this match was worth more than a point, he said.
 
Fast forward to Valhalla and consider, first, a Perry-Holmes win against Garcia and Westwood, the partner with whom Garcia has had the most success on the current European team, would be huge.
 
Perry and Holmes winning would, without a doubt, whip the Kentucky crowd into a frenzy. And it would be impossible for that energy not to filter back to the other three morning matches Friday.
 
Moreover, Garcia is the player the Americans love to hate in the Ryder Cup. After the 2002 American loss to Europe at The Belfry in England, Jim Furyk said, We lost to 11 gentlemen and one little boy.
 
He was referring to the antic Garcia, whose greenside celebrations, the Americans felt, were way over the top.
 
Garcia, it turns out, is a target in more ways than one. His career Ryder Cup record is 14-4-2 and far better than any other player here on either team. Garcias record in alternate shot is an eye-popping 8-0-0.
 
I wasnt aware that he was that good, American captain Paul Azinger said Monday when told of Garcias foursomes mark. Just an amazing, passionate player.
 
All of which makes the point that the underdog Americans, psychologically, stand to win more than a point if Perry and Holmes get a shot at Garcia and Westwood and if they can take them down.
 
Those are both big ifs. Azinger, and especially Euro captain Nick Faldo, took pains Wednesday to stress that neither had penciled in their line-ups for Friday morning. Faldo did his best to weather a hail of questions from European writers who claimed to have, in their hands, a picture of a piece of paper with his Friday foursomes picks on them. Faldo attempted to deflect by saying it was the sandwich list for his teams lunch orders.
 
It was a story only the tabloids could love. And, safe to say, it wont knock the MLB pennant races off the front pages of the sports sections in the U.S.
 
Meanwhile, back on point: Perhaps the best part of the potential Perry-Holmes vs. Garcia-Westwood is the enormous risk-reward it entails for either captain.
 
A Perry-Holmes loss takes the local crowd out of the game, maybe for the rest of the week. A Garcia-Westwood loss topples Europes best alternate-shot team and encourages the state of Kentucky to throw a three-day party that wont end until well after Sundays singles matches conclude and victory is secured.
 
One final point: Much has been made of exactly how much influence a captain can have on his team at a Ryder Cup. Azinger reiterated Wednesday how much less nervous he is at this stage of the week than he was as a Ryder Cup player.
 
But a good captain sees things. And a really good captain sees sparks ' whether its something that happens in the team room or on the course or at dinner. It could be a reaction to something written in a newspaper article.
 
The best captain figures out a way to turn a spark into a bonfire that translates its way into a burning victory. Tony Jacklin did it for Europe in the 80s. Ben Crenshaw found it for the Americans Saturday night at Brookline in 1999.
 
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Report Cards
  • European Report Cards
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup