Ryder rally isn't enough Europe wins, 14 1/2 -13 1/2

Dogged U.S. manages to go 8-4 in singles

September 29, 1997|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- When they arrived here last Monday, the 12 players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team were filled with confidence and, considering their three-hour flight on the Concorde from New York to Malaga, barely suffering from jet lag.

When they left Valderrama Golf Club last night and packed for today's trip home, the U.S. team and captain Tom Kite smiled bravely through the pain of a deceptively close, 14 1/2 -13 1/2 defeat to Europe in the 32nd Ryder Cup, unable to mask their feelings.

While they regained a portion of their battered pride with yesterday's impressive comeback in singles, going 8-4, the Americans really didn't come close to regaining the Cup. The defeat marked the first time in 10 years that the United States has lost outright in two consecutive Ryder Cup competitions.

"Obviously, we're all disappointed," Kite said. "Maybe had we played poorly today and been blown out, it would have been a little easier to take. But to play as admirably as we did today just makes it all that much tougher. Our hats are off to the European team. They did what they had to do when they needed to do it."

The victory was an emotional one for European captain and Spanish hero Seve Ballesteros, who shed tears of joy after leading his underrated team to its stunning victory.

Ballesteros had fought with Valderrama founder Jaime Ortiz-Patino over bringing the event here and fussed with members of his team on many issues before the competition began.

But the man whose tact and tactics were questioned came out a hero.

"It's very special, obviously, having the Ryder Cup in Spain, having been captain in Spain, being the first [European] player and captain to win. It's a tremendous feeling," Ballesteros said. "I've won the Masters and the [British] Open and a lot of great tournaments around the world, but it's nothing like winning the Ryder Cup."

In the end, the Americans couldn't overcome the five-point deficit they had left themselves with Saturday's pitiful performance that included losing three and halving one of the four-ball matches, then winning only one and halving one of the foursome matches that were completed yesterday.

In not winning for the fifth time in the past seven Ryder Cups, the United States contended it had lost as a team. But the burden of this defeat fell ultimately on its stars. Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III, the players who won three of this year's major championships, finished with a combined 1-9-3 record.

Inserted into yesterday's lineup in the second, third and fourth spots, they managed only a half-point among them. That came after Leonard blew a 4-up lead to Per-Ulrik Johansson of Sweden.

Woods, the reigning Masters champion, was the only one of the group to win a match, but the nearly legendary match-play reputation he carried with him from his days as an amateur took a beating here. It wasn't helped by yesterday's 4-and-2 defeat at the hands of Italy's Costantino Rocca that left Woods 1-3-1.

Love, whose record-setting victory at last month's PGA Championship seemed to erase his reputation for not performing well under pressure, came away from this rainy week on the Mediterranean coast without a single point in four matches. Leonard, the British Open champion, was 0-2-2.

"This is a disappointing week for all of us, especially for me," said Love, who lost to Johansson, 3 and 2, in singles. "I didn't play as well as I wanted to."

Despite going ahead in several early matches yesterday to raise some faint hope among a significant number of American fans who had made the trip, it seemed more a matter of merely waiting for the inevitable and for Europe to reach its magic number of 14 points. The United States needed 14 1/2 , because Europe would retain the Cup with a tie.

The end finally came when Germany's Bernhard Langer closed out Brad Faxon, 2 and 1. It seemed fitting the official end came on the 17th green, the site of so many U.S. disasters this week. After Faxon missed an eight-footer for birdie, Langer's 10-footer for birdie stopped a foot from the cup. Faxon walked over and shook hands, conceding defeat.

"In Kiawah Island [in 1991], you want to say I lost the Cup, and, today, you want to say I won," Langer said. His victory over Faxon was his first in singles since 1985. "But the Ryder Cup is not an individual event. It's a team event."

Except for Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland jumping in the pond at 17 after Faxon conceded, the celebration wasn't as raucous as the one that followed Europe's stunning comeback victory at Oak Hill two years ago or the impromptu conga dance around the green at Muirfield Village in 1987.

Perhaps it was because there was no real drama at Valderrama. The only question left in the last hour was whether the Americans would forge a tie on the scoreboard, which might have been a moral victory of sorts for a team that came into the tournament as a 3-1 favorite.

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