European rookies: Anything you can do, we can do better 5-1-2 record states case to surprised Americans

Ryder Cup notebook

September 28, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- They were either unknown in the United States, untested in the Ryder Cup or both. But apparently the rookies on this year's European team at Valderrama Golf Club are undaunted, underrated or both.

Whatever the reason, they have greatly outplayed their American counterparts in the 32nd Ryder Cup.

Through the matches completed before play was suspended by darkness last night, the European rookies were a combined 5-1-2 compared with 2-5-1 for the Americans playing in their first Ryder Cup. They have played a big part in Europe taking a 9-4 lead.

At least one of them -- England's Lee Westwood -- got the best of a fellow rookie whom many consider the world's best player. While playing with 11-time Ryder Cup player Nick Faldo, Westwood, 24, was the star of a 2-up victory over Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara by shooting a 64 on his ball.

"It's nice to be playing well under pressure," Westwood said. "I've got a good anchorman [in Faldo]. He's taken a lot of pressure off me."

While Westwood, who will attempt to qualify for the PGA Tour later this year, is emerging as the star of this European team, Woods' reputation has been tarnished. Just as he did at Congressional during the U.S. Open, at Troon in the British Open and at Winged Foot during the PGA, Woods has struggled with his putting.

"I didn't play that badly today," said Woods, who was 1-2 while playing with O'Meara and was matched with fellow rookie Justin Leonard in a match against rookies Jesper Parnevik and Ignacio Garrido last night. "I didn't quite do it and [Westwood] got on a roll."

Westwood made three straight birdies beginning on the par-4 ninth hole and later made a 15-footer on the par-4 15th to put his team 1 up. Faldo then rolled in a 20-footer on the par-4 16th hole to all but secure the match, which ended when Woods' 50-foot birdie attempt at the par-5 rolled off the green and into a pond.

"I think Tiger played pretty darn good today," O'Meara said. "He made a couple of birdies, but we didn't make the putts we had to down the stretch."

Leonard made several putts, as well as making a putt on the par-4 fourth hole with a wedge from 88 yards. Leonard played one seven-hole stretch in 6-under-par. But with veteran Brad Faxon failing to make a birdie for the second consecutive day, Leonard watched a 1-up lead turn into a 2-and-1 defeat to Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn, the first Dane to play in the Ryder Cup.

"The best-ball format is like that; you've got to make a ton of birdies," Leonard said. His only other birdie came at 17 and Bjorn matched it. "Those guys hammed and egged it well. Both sides played pretty darn good. I don't know what their birdie total was, but they were a pretty hard combination to beat."

Faldo makes history

While Westwood was making misery for Woods and O'Meara yesterday, Faldo, 40, was making Ryder Cup history. Barely anyone noticed, but their victory gave the Englishman a place in the event's record books, moving Faldo ahead of Billy Casper for the most points (25) and Arnold Palmer for the most matches won (23).

"I was thumbing through one of the magazines and saw I was close," Faldo said. His 11th Ryder Cup appearance extended his record. He also was the youngest Ryder Cup player, making the team at 20. "Obviously [the records were] a goal. The Ryder Cup has always been a big part of my life."

Faldo owns or shares 10 Ryder Cup records.

If he wins twice today, he will set records for singles won and foursomes won.

Jordan makes quick visit

It wasn't difficult to tell who was the most recognizable person at Valderrama not directly involved in the competition. It wasn't former President Bush, who has been here all week. It wasn't King Juan Carlos of Spain or Prince Andrew.

It was Michael Jordan.

The Chicago Bulls star and known golf aficionado, Jordan took a day off from a family vacation in Monaco to watch. He was visible, wearing a small American flag in the back of his Ryder Cup hat. He spent part of the day walking the course and some of it riding in a cart with U.S. captain Tom Kite.

Jordan knows several of the players, having started in the game with the help of former North Carolina classmate Davis Love III and having given advice to Woods on a couple of occasions this year on dealing with publicity. At one point, an English fan yelled at Jordan, "Your guys need help, Michael. Go 'doonk' it."

Jordan wanted to stay for the day, but he left shortly after 4 p.m. to take a flight back to Monaco.

"If I don't get back, my wife will kill me," he said.

Ryder Cup

When: Today.

Where: 6,819-yard, par-71, Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain.

Format: Conclusion of three alternate-shot matches; 12 singles matches.

To win: Europeans lead 9-4 and need only five points in the final 15 matches. The United States must score 10 1/2 in the final 15 matches.

TV: 8 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m., chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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