Woods flourishes socially, but not on course Rookie finishes at 1-3-1, falls to Italy's Rocca, 4 and 2

Ryder Cup

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

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- Call it revenge for what happened at Augusta National, for the way Tiger Woods outplayed Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Costantino Rocca during his remarkable and historic run at this year's Masters.

Woods got his comeuppance at Valderrama Golf Club in the 32nd Ryder Cup.

Though he seemed to continue his mastery of Montgomerie in his only victory -- a 3-and-2 win he and Mark O'Meara scored over Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer in Friday's opening four-ball match -- Montgomerie got back at Woods when the same teams met later that day in foursomes.

Yesterday, it was Rocca's turn.

Rocca had a front-row seat during Woods' final round at Augusta and wound up going backward on the scoreboard. Yesterday, the former factory worker from Italy came up with the kind of magic Woods did in the Masters in a 4-and-2 victory in singles.

It included jumping to a quick start by winning three of the first five holes, two with birdies. Rocca then went 4-up at the turn after making a 20-foot putt for par on the ninth hole, which seemed to distract Woods, who missed a four-footer for par.

"It was a big putt," Woods said.

Rocca, who, in his Ryder Cup debut at The Belfry in 1993, was one of the goats of a European defeat when he blew a match to Davis Love III on the last hole, is one of the heroes this year. He finished with a 3-1 record and scored more points than anybody but Montgomerie.

The defeat gave Woods a 1-3-1 record in his Ryder Cup debut. But at 21, the youngest player on either team, he apparently was thinking as much about bonding as birdies. It was the first time that he had socialized with many of his peers on the PGA Tour since turning pro last summer.

"What I take away from this was a chance to get really close to my teammates," Woods said. "I can't really tell you how great these guys are. In golf, you're always out there alone, trying to beat each other's butts."

Olazabal turns emotional

Perhaps the most touching moment at the postmatch news conferences last night came when Jose Maria Olazabal was asked to describe what it was like to be a member of the European team.

"A year ago, I couldn't walk," Olazabal said, choking on his words and breaking down in tears.

Olazabal overcame career-threatening foot surgery to resurrect his career. Though he was not playing well, having finished 11th in European Ryder Cup points, he made the team when Seve Ballesteros pulled Miguel Angel Martin off the team because of a wrist injury. Olazabal played admirably, finishing 2-1-1.

Getting control of his emotions, the former Masters champion continued.

"Just to be part of this team, it's a week I'll never forget," he said.

Kite's choices play well

Both of Kite's captain's picks played well. Fred Couples finished 2-2, including an 8-and-7 win over Ian Woosnam to start the singles. Lee Janzen was 2-1, with his 1-up victory over Olazabal coming after he was two holes down with three to play.

"I saw the rest of my teammates hanging on and fighting," Janzen said. He was more animated than most of his teammates, at one point trying to exhort the crowd by acting as if he couldn't hear their cheers.

"Once I won 16, I wanted to win 17. I felt I could put the pressure on him."

As Janzen went to the 18th, he raised his index finger on his right hand and said, "One more."

But even his birdie at 18 wouldn't matter.

"Before I hit the putt, I knew it was over," he said.

Bush spoke with U.S. team

Among those cheering for the American team this week were former President Bush and his wife, Barbara. Yesterday, they started walking with Couples. At one point, Bush was seen riding with Kite in his golf cart. Kite said that Bush had spoken to the team Saturday night.

"It really wasn't important what he said," Kite said. "It was more important that he was there for us."

Captains likely to change

Ballesteros and U.S. captain Tom Kite likely will not be back when the Ryder Cup goes to The Country Club outside Boston in 1999. Ballesteros announced last night that he planned on trying to make the team. Kite will relinquish the position, as has become customary with the PGA of America, which makes the decision.

Potential successors to Kite include Larry Nelson, who recently joined the Senior Tour and lobbied aggressively for the job before it went to Kite. Another possibility is PGA Tour player Curtis Strange, who won the U.S. Open when it was played at The Country Club in 1988.

At least one member of this year's European team said he wants to be considered if Ballesteros steps down.

"I would like to be part of it in some way," Langer said. "We'll see what happens."

Pub Date: 9/29/97

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