But, they are playing 52 weeks later than scheduled because of the tragedy visited upon the United States. The European team voiced its understanding loud and clear. One year undoubtedly scrambled the mix, and captains Curtis Strange and Sam Torrance certainly would have drawn better teams if they were allowed to throw in their cards and re-deal. So much can happen in a years time.
They didnt do that, however. Strange has insisted that this is a tribute to players on both sides who qualified for a Ryder Cup that was to be played in 2001. As such, neither side should think it is the best just because they win, nor should either side think it is inferior because it loses. This one is different ' it doesnt pretend to match to the two best sides of the respective tours. Its largely symbolic, and no one should get too upset or too overjoyed at the eventual result.
But people will be people, and I dont care if they are pitching pennies against a wall, some will chortle all night over a win, mope for a month for a loss.
Phil Mickelson could be the X-Man for the U.S. You know what you will get from Tiger ' solid play, regardless. But Mickelson is the key here - he can be brilliant. Or he can look decidedly average. A good week from him and the U.S. is in. A bad week and the Yanks are in serious danger of defeat.
The Europeans? Three men are vital ' Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie. One player looks like a known quantity ' Thomas Bjorn has played well the second half of the year and there is no reason to expect him to stumble now. But for Europe to win, at least two of the other three must carry the load.
Harrington has approached a high level at times this year. Sergio did the same last year, but he has been quite inconsistent this year. Montgomerie, the teams mainstay in recent years, appears to be on the downward curve with a balky back. But he might give Europe just enough to squeeze by.
Someone else will pop up and have the week of his life. Will it be Davis Love? Mark Calcavecchia? Paul McGinley? Niclas Fasth? Someone will show up huge and tip the scales Europes way or towards the U.S. Someone who hasnt been particularly significant up til now, but someone who will make their mark on the worlds stage.
This year in particularly, though, youve got to root for good play ' or in several instances, good mediocre play. So many players arent at the apex of their games. So many guys will go out with guts and not much else.
Every Ryder Cup, lip service comes from both sides about how goodwill and sportsmanship will be applauded. Then, once the Cup begins, all that is forgotten. Somehow all the goodwill is past history, and by the third day you have two rabid camps of both players and spectators. Maybe this year will be different. But dont count on it.
I have to admit that I can enjoy a beer-belly softball game as much as a game between major leaguers, if the beer-bellies are fairly even. And as long as the suffering few match the other teams suffering few in the Ryder Cup, who cares if youre not watching a birdie barrage? Men are puking all over the course trying to win, and I, for one, applaud them. Its not the best of golf, but it IS the best of competition.
Full coverage of the 2002 Ryder Cup