The Hills Are Alive with the Ryder Cup

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04 Ryder CupTheres not much to the Ryder Cup ' the trophy itself. It stands 17 inches tall, is only nine inches from handle to handle, and weighs less than a bag of sugar.
 
Even when its gold finish is properly shined it still pales when compared to many of the garish prizes handed out to so many tournament winners around the world.
 
The Ryder Cup, however, is diminutive only in physical stature, ordinary only in outward appearance. Because no trophy, no matter what size, shape or color, no matter when, where or to whom it is awarded, means so much to so many.
 
When Europe clinched the cup in 2002, over 30,000 partisan patrons reveled in victory ' and that was just those in attendance at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. As the victorious side sipped champagne and beer in the press conference, soccer-style chants reverberated on the grounds.
 
No one wins the Ryder Cup. Nor is it just one winning team. It is a country who claims themselves triumphant. Or, more often than not over the past decade, an entire continent.
 
This year, as the two sides square off at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., it marks the 25th anniversary of when the continentals joined Great Britain & Ireland in their biennial battle with the United States. Prior to 1979, the U.S had won 10 consecutive Ryder Cup matches. And with the event taking place every two years, that meant a 20-year drought.
 
Not much changed soon after the alteration in format. The U.S. won handily, thanks to a Sunday surge, in 79, and dominated their counterparts by 9 points in 81.
 
Then the Ryder Cup became a true competition. The Europeans lost by a single point in 83, before finally winning back the cup in 85. Two years later, they claimed their first victory on American soil, beating the Jack Nicklaus-led squad at Nicklaus own Muirfield Village.
 
Overall, the U.S. leads the series 24-8-2. But over the last nine Matches, Europe holds the upper hand, 5-3-1.
 
And as the Americans enter the 35th Ryder Cup, the question has to be asked: Who is really the favorite?
 
Are we the underdogs? Phil Mickelson said. That's a good question. They bring out their best game in the event, and we have not in years past.
 
It might seem like a silly question, particularly given the fact that the U.S. features five major champions to Europes zero; that the U.S., at the moment, has five players ranked in the top 10 in the world, while Europe has one; that the U.S. is playing at home.
 
But the U.S. is just 2-2 in their last four home games. And their players are always of higher profile, with higher rankings ' and it hasnt stopped the Europeans from capturing the cup six of the last nine times.
 
Everybody always speculates as to why the Europeans fight above their weight, and why the Americans look like heavyweights and fight like featherweights,' U.S. captain Hal Sutton said.
 
They add up the world ranking, and when you look at the U.S. versus Europe, it's pretty lopsided, he said. But one great thing about the game of golf is that David beats Goliath sometimes.
 
It used to be that the Europeans were considered the underdogs because so few fans outside of the continent were familiar with their players. But now, as the game has grown exponentially, fans and the media are familiar with the likes of Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Thomas Levet and Paul Casey.
 
And such players have been playing increasingly more outside of the European Tour, expanding not only their profile, but their game as well.
 
We have far more depth on the European team now than we ever had before, said European captain Bernhard Langer.
 
The match-play competition will finally get underway Friday, with the two teams of 12 competing in four foursomes (alternate shot) matches and four four-ball (better-ball) matches. They will do the same Saturday, and will play 12 singles matches Sunday.
 
Each victory is worth one point, with a point going to each team when a match is tied after 18 holes.
 
It will take 14 points to win the Ryder Cup outright; though, the Europeans can retain possession with a 14-14 tie.
 
This will be the first time that Oakland Hills, which has hosted six U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships, has hosted a Ryder Cup.
 
The venue was dubbed The Monster by Ben Hogan in 1951. But, listed as a par 72, 7,105 yards, the course isnt the beast it once was. And Sutton believes it more suited for good iron play and good putting.
 
My impression of Oakland Hills is different than what my first impression was, Sutton said. My first impression of Oakland Hills was in 1985, and I thought it was absolutely the hardest venue that I had ever seen for a major championship, and one of the reasons why I thought it was is because it was one of the longer golf courses; at the time I thought so because the ball didn't go as far as it's going now. Secondly, the greens are so undulating.
 
Now that I've played it quite a few times, the length is not the factor that I thought it was. But you've still got to drive it in the fairway because you have got to put your irons below the hole. So I think accuracy and being a good iron player, and then obviously, you've got to be a good putter to close the deal. That's what I think is important at Oakland Hills.
 
Thats why he used his captains selections on Stewart Cink and Jay Haas, a pair of excellent putters.
 
One putt here, one putt there. It all adds up in the end. And every half-point matters when you consider that seven of the last eight Ryder Cups have been decided by two points or less.
 
And, of course, many of those putts have fallen in favor of the Europeans.
 
'The European team is always up to the challenge. They seem to play above their weight, Sutton said. But the Americans are going to be up to the challenge. We're going in there on a mission, and we're not going to settle for less.
 
Related Links:
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team

  • European Ryder Cup Team

  • Full Coverage - 35th Ryder Cup