Ryder overflows with sweet taste of U.S. triumph Floyd's victory clinches 15-13 win over Europe

September 27, 1993|By Jeff Rude | Jeff Rude,Dallas Morning News

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- The 19-inch-high Ryder Cup, symbolizing three days of tense international golfing achievement, is coming back to America. You can pour celebratory champagne into the shiny container. But you can't fit the myriad reasons for the U.S. team's success in there.

It would overflow.

Just as high drama did yesterday on a former potato farm in the English countryside.

The Americans' harvest was a Raymond Floyd-led, 15-13 comeback victory over their European counterparts in the 30th biennial gathering. Upon improving their series record to 23-5-2, the Yanks sprayed bubbly, chanted "U.S.A.!," hugged flesh everywhere and turned the foreign turf of The Belfry into a stage for Kodak moments.

"This is the finest experience I have ever had in the game of golf," said U.S. captain Tom Watson, who has won five British Opens, two Masters and a U.S. Open. "That's because you are playing for something else besides yourself."

Only a day earlier, his 12-man team was in a desperate hole, down three points after Saturday morning. It entered yesterday's singles trailing by one, 9-8, and without the talents of Lanny Wadkins, who volunteered inactivity after injured Scot Sam Torrance was scratched.

But then the unexpected seemed to be the rule yesterday on the cold, wind-swept Barbazon Course. It's not so much surprising TC that the Americans won six singles matches, lost three and tied two for a 7-4 edge in points. It's how they did it.

They triumphed because Tom Kite, 43, and Floyd, at 51 the oldest Cup player in history, went on under-par binges in beating Jose-Maria Olazabal and Masters champion Bernhard Langer, respectively. They won because Cup rookie Jim Gallagher Jr., moving into Wadkins' spot in the order, scored a 3 and 2 upset against Europe's most accomplished Ryder Cup player, Seve Ballesteros, who shot 42 on the front and was four down through 10. They won because a revitalized Fred Couples birdied 13 and 15 in overcoming a two-hole deficit for a halve against Ian Woosnam.

Overall, they won because of superior depth. Nothing testifies to that better than the fact that victory came despite the shocking 0-3-2 records of leaders Paul Azinger and Couples over three days.

The Europeans lost because, amazingly, none of their five most celebrated players -- Nick Faldo, Ballesteros, Langer, Woosnam and Olazabal -- won a singles match yesterday. They lost because Barry Lane, 3-up through 13, bogeyed three of the final five holes, including from the water at 18, in falling to Chip Beck, 1-down.

They lost because, at a most crucial juncture, Italian Costantino Rocca made losing bogeys on the final two holes of a 1-down downer against Davis Love III. They lost because they had no victories and a tie in the final six matches.

"Freddie and Chip coming back lifted the whole team," Azinger said.

But the Rocca-Love duel was the chief turning point yesterday. The overall score was tied at 12 1/2 points as they were finishing. The Americans needed at least 14 points to keep the Cup they had won by a point in 1991 at Kiawah Island, S.C.

At the time, Floyd seemed a cinch to beat Olazabal, which would provide 13 1/2 . That meant Love needed to at least halve fellow Cup rookie Rocca and gain a clinching half-point. If Love couldn't produce, the United States would need Azinger to at least halve Faldo, No. 1 in the world and the 1993 Cup's most consistent force, in the final pairing.

Rocca was 1-up through 16 holes, but he slid a 25-foot birdie putt three feet past the hole at 17 and missed coming back. That drew Love even.

"I miss because my head came up and I look too quickly at the hole," Rocca said in broken English.

At 18, Rocca drove into rough, approached short and bogeyed. Love won the hole, and the match 1-up, when he completed a 55-foot two-putt by rolling in a 5-footer for par.

Love's point put the United States ahead, 13 1/2 -12 1/2 , for the first time since the first match on opening day.

"The Ryder Cup revolved around Rocca," European captain Bernard Gallacher said. "We all feel for him."

Floyd ensured the half-point and the Cup moments later when he left No. 16 2-up on Olazabal. Floyd then clinched victory outright at 18, winning 2-up. Eventually, Azinger's eight-foot birdie at 18 for a halve against Faldo provided the anticlimactic 15th point.

"Azinger got his wish," Wadkins said by the 18th green. "He said, 'Please make my match not count.' "

And Floyd got a sentimental moment.

"This is a memory I'll never forget," he said. "To be part of this spectacle at 51 is something really special."

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