NEWPORT, Wales – Tom Lehman dug deep for an answer when asked why the U.S. got whipped so badly under his leadership in the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland.
“They made more putts than we did,” the American captain said.
Odds are that might be the deciding factor again at this Ryder Cup. Because even after months of over-the-top buildup, the cup can’t be decided without three days of actual golf.
Here, though, are a few other reasons why each team might win, starting with the favored Europeans:
THE FULL MONTY: Love him or hate him – and Europe’s players seem to be split – captain Colin Montgomerie is a Ryder Cup winner. He’s 20-9-7 overall, has never lost a singles match, and has been on five winning teams. That he’s never won a major championship in 86 tries merely makes him more lovable in Britain.
FAST TRACK: Montgomerie wants his team to set the pace early, both to fire up the crowd and build a cushion heading into Sunday’s singles, where the U.S. traditionally does well. He seemed almost giddy after the first morning draw, certain that he had the right matchups to do the job.
BROTHERS IN ARMS: Never have two Italians been paired together in the Ryder Cup. Only once have two brothers played together. Never before has any of that mattered. Francesco and Edoardo Molinari have plenty of game, but it may be their blood connection that helps them win points beginning, perhaps, with Friday afternoon’s alternate shot matches.
TIGER HUNT: Conversation about the strength of the U.S. team usually begins and ends with Tiger Woods, though he has struggled with the team concept in the Ryder Cup. For the first time, though, there’s a European who really wants a piece of Woods and who can fault Rory McIlroy for having the youthful enthusiasm to say so? Unfortunately, singles play is a blind draw so the two may not meet on Sunday. There’s a better chance they might find themselves on opposite sides of the green in the fourball or alternate shot matches.
ROYALTY RULES: Prince Charles spent some time with the guys at a local castle the other night, so they’ve got that going for them.
MONEY MATTERS: A billionaire named Sir Terry spent $50 million for the Ryder Cup, and built a course just for it. He was thanked a lot at the opening ceremony. A better way of getting him to reach into his deep pockets again would be to win the cup.
FUNNY GUYS: They wear wigs, crack jokes, and seem to regard the Ryder Cup as just good fun. Lee Westwood even set Paul McGinley’s cell phone alarm to go off as a joke just as Montgomerie was speaking in the opening ceremony. The Euros seem less uptight than the Americans, from their captain all the way down to their lowest rookie.
Still, the American’s have a chance. Here’s why:
CAPTAIN BULLDOG: Tenacity could be Corey Pavin’s middle name, if he didn’t have one already. If he can pass on his bulldog instincts to the U.S. team, the underdogs have a good shot at retaining the cup. Hopefully, he remembers to send out all his players because during an opening ceremony blunder, he forgot to introduce Stewart Cink. And, hopefully, his second blunder wasn’t picking two Ryder Cup rookies, Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton, to play Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald in opening fourball matches Friday.
LEFTY-LEFTY: The U.S. is the only team that can pair two lefties, something that would surely unsettle the right-handed Euros. The odds of Watson playing with Phil Mickelson, though, are about the same as the odds of Tiger Woods being paired with Mickelson.
TIGERRIFIC: It took a few Ryder Cups to find someone who could play with Tiger Woods in the first two days of team matches. A disastrous pairing with Mickelson in 2004 didn’t help Woods’ losing record in Ryder Cup play, but now Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker have shown they are compatible with the man formerly known as the best player in the world. Stricker, who was 4-0 with Woods in the President’s Cup last year, will go off with him Friday against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.
DESPERATE TIGER: Woods usually builds his year around the majors, and treats the Ryder Cup mostly as an afterthought. But after a year unlike any other, he’s desperate for something good to happen. If his swing holds up under pressure, this could be a big Ryder Cup for a very motivated Woods. If it doesn’t, well, worse things have happened this year.
MATT’S SMILE: Matt Kuchar is a Ryder Cup rookie and always seems to be smiling. His teammates will rise to the occasion to keep the Euros from wiping the smile off his face.
STREAKBUSTERS: All streaks must end sometime, and Europe’s winning streak on home soil is no exception. The Euros haven’t lost at home since 1993, when the balls were made of balata and Davis Love III was still using real woods.
OVERTON’S OPPORTUNITY: No one knows who Jeff Overton is. No one. He’s never won a tournament on the PGA Tour, never played on a Ryder Cup team, and never has known such pressure. In his last two tournaments he was a combined 21 over par. What better story could the Ryder Cup have than for Overton to win a bunch of points and lead the U.S. to an upset win?