U.S. faces uphill putt

Americans' 4-ball rally stalls, leaving Europe with 10-6 last-day lead

Garcia, 19, energizes leaders

Confident Crenshaw top-loads Ryder lineup

September 26, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- When the golf cart carrying Ben Crenshaw stopped at the crest of a hill leading up to the 12th green at The Country Club yesterday morning, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain jumped out and spotted an old friend.

"We need a little mojo," Crenshaw said as he hugged George W. Bush.

Just as it was for Crenshaw's cart, his team has been fighting an uphill battle since the 33rd Ryder Cup began Friday. Considering what happened here yesterday, the Texas governor should have a better chance of being elected president next year than Crenshaw's team will have in beating Europe today.

Seemingly on the verge of a stirring comeback during the afternoon four-ball matches, the U.S. team suddenly stalled and left itself with a 10-6 deficit going into singles. The Americans will need to find more than their mojo -- like a miracle finish -- to avoid losing for a record third straight time.

"Everyone collectively will have to play well," Crenshaw said last night. "We need to have individuals who believe in themselves. We're so close. Everyone knows that. Everyone feels that on both sides."

Yet the deficit is only half a point smaller than what the U.S. team faced two years ago at Valderrama, when the Europeans hung on to win 14 1/2-13 1/2. In this case, Europe needs to win four of the 12 matches. No team has ever come back from more than two points behind on the final day to win. "I think it will be a disappointment if we didn't win," said European captain Mark James. "We're under no illusions. We know the U.S. will fight back."

If there was one putt that seemed to stop the U.S. comeback yesterday, it was an 8-footer for birdie on the 18th hole by Sergio Garcia of Spain. It helped halve a riveting match between the most dominant team of this year's competition, Garcia and Jesper Parnevik of Sweden, and Americans Davis Love III and David Duval.

It came after Love had made a 10-footer for birdie on the par-3 16th to put his team up a hole and then had two chances to close out the match. But Love missed a 6-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th and then watched as his 12-footer for birdie on the par-4 18th slid by the cup. "We gave them an out and they took it," said Love. "No matter what happens, they're just coming through and we're not."

Parnevik and Garcia have played all four matches together, winning their first three. They combined to make eight birdies against Love and Duval. Parnevik also wound up holing out a 90-foot shot from the rough to save par and halve the 12th hole, the second time he has holed out in two days.

"I'm really surprised at the way I've played, because I wasn't feeling so good on Friday," said Parnevik. "I just have to keep it up. Every point, every half-point, is really important. This is an amazing Ryder Cup, the level of play is really high."

Garcia continues to defy the imagination. If last month's performance at the PGA Championship was Garcia's coming-out party, his play here will lift the 19-year-old phenom to another level.

While his ability to hit remarkable shots belies his age, his reaction to them doesn't.

A few minutes after celebrating his putt by pumping his arms and hugging a crush of European players, the youngest player in Ryder Cup history took a leap off his golf cart when fellow Ryder Cup rookie Miguel Angel Jimenez found the green on his approach at 18.

"He's very contagious, he even gets me excited," said the usually nonchalant Parnevik.

Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal gained a half-point against Hal Sutton and Justin Leonard, whose approaches at the par-4 18th both found the same bunker. In the afternoon's other four-ball match, Tiger Woods and Steve Pate lost to Scotsmen Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie, 2 and 1.

Montgomerie, too, has emerged as one of the leaders of this European team, helping carry Lawrie, the reigning British Open champion, to two wins and a tie. He made crucial putts on the 15th and 16th holes to put them 2-up.

"That was huge," said James. "The U.S. had thrown a lot of good golf at us and we were in the process of trying to put the wall up, stop them breaking through."

How secure that wall is is a question for debate. Three players -- Andrew Coltart of Scotland, Jarmo Sandelin of Sweden and Jean Van de Velde of France -- will be making their Ryder Cup debuts today, and seven other members will be playing in their fifth match in three days. The Americans are hoping that those who haven't played will be rusty and those who have not rested will be tired.

"I think there's a benefit [for the U.S. team]," said Tom Lehman, who along with Phil Mickelson defeated Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Lee Westwood of England, 2 and 1. "But they're very good players. It's not like they've been sitting on a bunch of bums."

While the singles lineup doesn't offer many intriguing matchups, the strategies of the respective captains were clear. Crenshaw loaded the top half of his lineup with his best players, while James left his big names mostly at the bottom.

It could make for a wild finish.

As he left last night, Crenshaw seemed eerily confident. "I'm going to leave y'all with one thought," he said. "I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this. That's all I'm going to tell you."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.