No Leonard for U.S. team in morning British Open champion unruffled by decision

September 26, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- Tom Kite went for compatibility. Seve Ballesteros went with experience. And, starting today here at the Valderrama Golf Club, their 12-man teams are going after the same prize: possession of the treasured Ryder Cup.

The captains of the U.S. and European teams announced some interesting pairings yesterday for this morning's four-ball matches and, for the Americans, there was one particularly surprising move: British Open champion Justin Leonard was not a member of the four U.S. pairs.

"I'd love to get started, yes, but I know I'll get to play plenty this week, so it's not something I worry about," said Leonard, one of six Ryder Cup rookies on the U.S. team. "I felt I'd play more in the alternate shot. Hopefully I'll get on a nice roll in the afternoon and Tom will let me keep playing. Who knows? Maybe it's for the best."

Asked about his decision to keep Leonard out of the morning lineup, Kite said, "Well, I had to leave four out. I'd love to pair everybody up, but felt for best ball this is a pretty outstanding lineup."

At least two of the American pairings were made because the players are comfortable with each other: Fred Couples and Brad Faxon have won a number of non-sanctioned team events on the PGA Tour, while Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara have developed a friendship while practicing together at their homes near Orlando.

At least one European pairing was done with nourishment in mind. In putting Colin Montgomerie, one of the world's most impatient players, together with Bernhard Langer, one of the world's slowest, Ballesteros admitted he had something other than golf in mind.

"We have a problem here. We all know how Langer plays," said Ballesteros. "I always thought that if we play Langer in the first match at 9 o'clock in the morning, we all probably will miss lunch. I think Colin has to walk slower on the course tomorrow."

Montgomerie and Langer have played once before in the Ryder Cup, beating Corey Pavin and Steve Pate in the second day's four-ball matches at Kiawah Island in 1991. And Montgomerie has said in the past that being paired with another slow player, Nick Faldo, has helped slow his game down.

"We had a feeling that we were going to play in the last match together and that Woods and O'Meara would play together," Montgomerie said after the 90-minute opening ceremonies. "You could see it coming. It will be some match."

The match between Woods-O'Meara and Montgomerie-Langer -- the last before lunch -- could have have an interesting subplot. Earlier in the week, Montgomerie said that the tight course with its low-hanging cork trees doesn't suit Woods as much as Augusta National. Earlier in the year, Woods trounced Montgomerie at the Masters.

"We're going to have the opportunity over the next couple of days to find out if Colin was right," said Kite.

Ballesteros opted to use only two of his five rookies in the morning matches and one, Sweden's Jesper Parnevik, is a 10-year veteran of the PGA European Tour who was picked as one of the captain's choices.

The other, England's Lee Westwood, was teamed with Ballesteros' other wild-card selection, Faldo. Despite a disappointing summer, Faldo comes in as the most experienced player and one of the most successful in Ryder Cup.

U.S. PGA champion Davis Love and Phil Mickelson will play in the first match at 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EST) here against Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal and Italy's Costantino Rocca. Faldo and Westwood will then take on Couples and Faxon.

Parnevik, who seemed on the verge of winning his first major before crashing down the stretch of this year's British Open at Royal Troon, will play with fellow Swede Per-Ulrik Johansson in the third match against Tom Lehman and Jim Furyk.

Kite said he made up his mind on his pairings two days ago, but Ballesteros fretted over his until early yesterday morning. In fact, he called his assistant, Miguel Angel Jimenez, to his hotel suite at 5: 15 a.m.

"I said, 'Come to my room, we have to make the pairings,' and he said, 'Are you crazy?' "

Pub Date: 9/26/97

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