U.S. quickly in deep woods

Europe rides late wins to 6-2 Ryder Cup lead

September 25, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BROOKLINE, MASS. — Clarification

Captions for two Ryder Cup photos in yesterday's editions, both referring to an 18th-hole putt by American golfer Davis Love, appeared to contradict one another. In fact, the caption on Page 1A referred to a morning round Friday, when Love's birdie effort failed. The caption on Page 1C was from the afternoon round, when his birdie putt dropped.

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- A month ago, the biggest concern among several prominent members of the U.S. team headed to the 33rd Ryder Cup seemed to be compensation in some fashion for appearing here. Should they receive some money later this year, even if it's for their favorite charity, some should hope there's no performance clause attached.

One of the more exciting first days in this biennial competition's recent memory turned into disaster for the Americans last night at The Country Club. Only a clutch, 20-foot putt by Davis Love III on the 18th hole to tie one of the foursome matches prevented a shocking sweep by the Europeans in the afternoon.

As a result, the U.S. team trails, 6-2, going into today's matches, equaling the deficit the Americans faced at Muirfield Village in 1987 and the largest since the format was changed 20 years ago. The largest first-day deficit ever overcome by either team was three points by the Americans in 1973.

"I just don't think, at least from my position, that it's indicative of how we played today," said Ben Crenshaw, the stunned but characteristically upbeat U.S. captain. "It's a little bit of what I've said for a long time: Holing out is the name of the game in match play."

The Europeans, 3-to-1 underdogs coming in, according to the London bookmakers, seemingly made nearly every big putt they needed. All nine members of the team used by captain Mark James contributed, with Jesper Parnevik of Sweden and Ryder Cup rookie Sergio Garcia of Spain combining to win both of their matches.

Conversely, the Americans missed a number of opportunities to earn points, particularly in the afternoon, when three of the four matches came down to the last hole. Only Love, one of the goats in the U.S. defeat at Valderrama, Spain, two years ago, answered the challenge.

Some of last month's biggest complainers turned into yesterday's biggest disappointments.

Consider that Tiger Woods and Cup rookie David Duval, the world's top two ranked players, didn't earn a single point in their respective matches, the second coming when they were paired in the afternoon and lost, 1-up, to Lee Westwood of England and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland. Woods is now 1-5-1 in his two Ryder Cup appearances.

Consider, too, that another of last month's malcontents, Phil Mickelson, didn't get a point, either, and contributed mightily to he and Jim Furyk losing their afternoon match, 1-up, to Parnevik and Garcia. Mickelson missed two short putts on two of the last three holes, including a 5-footer for birdie at 18 to tie.

"I'm not overly surprised," said Mickelson, who has a history of missing big putts, most recently at this year's U.S. Open. "These guys are some of the best players in the world. They're extremely strong. Jesper Parnevik played extremely well today. I think our expectations were certainly higher, as they will be tomorrow."

Said Love: "They're going to be tough to beat. When they get in this format, they play even better because they feed off each other. Seven rookies doesn't seem to matter."

The Europeans overcame a shaky start in the morning when they trailed in three of the four matches after a few holes to carve out a 2 1/2-1 1/2 lead going into lunch time. Two holes down after five holes, Parnevik and Garcia came back to beat Woods and Tom Lehman, 2-up. Parnevik made crucial putts on two of his team's last three holes to win, closing out the match with a 10-footer for birdie on the par-4 17th.

In the afternoon, Parnevik and Garcia constantly rescued each other. With Garcia in trouble on the par-4 8th, Parnevik holed out a 9-iron from 135 yards for eagle to go 1-up. After Furyk had squared the match with a birdie on the par-4 13th, Garcia then holed out a 70-foot pitch for eagle on the par-5 14th hole.

"I had everything going for me today," said Parnevik, an unlikely hero of this year's European team, given his penchant for missing big putts at crucial times in major championships.

Every move by James seemed to work. He sat a struggling Jose Maria Olazabal in the morning, but the two-time Masters champion played in the afternoon, as he had earlier this year at Augusta. Playing with fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, Olazabal made several crucial putts in their 2-and-1 victory over Hal Sutton and Jeff Maggert.

"I think every time a player wins a match, it gives him a certain amount of confidence," said James, who used four of his seven rookies and watched them win four matches and halve the other. "If there's any lack of it, it's probably something we're not suffering from now. They never lost their focus all day."

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