Punch misses in Ryder

1-2 U.S.

Mickelson, Woods foiled

Europe opens 6 1/2 -1 1/2 lead

September 18, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - As Hal Sutton stood on the first tee at Oakland Hills yesterday morning, the black cowboy hat he was wearing seemed to accentuate all the bravado the U.S. captain and his team had exhibited in the days leading up to the start of the 35th Ryder Cup.

Less than an hour later, Sutton didn't have either the accouterment given him by the team's caddies or the confidence that he and his players had shown. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were already down in their best-ball match to Colin Montgomerie of Scotland and Padraig Harrington of Ireland.

Sutton had hoped his team's two heavy leadoff hitters would set the tone for the day - and they did. Woods and Mickelson might have set the tone for the entire event by not only losing the opening match, but their afternoon alternate-shot match to Lee Westwood of England and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland as well.

By the time the first eight matches were finished last night, the United States was down, 6 1/2 -1 1/2 , and facing its largest opening-day deficit in the history of the event. The Americans have twice trailed 6-2, including in 1999 when they came back to win at The Country Club outside Boston.

"Well, we made history today," a grim-faced Sutton said sardonically. "They played great and we played very poorly. It looked like they were trying to make something happen and it looked like we were trying to make sure we didn't have anything bad happen."

Only an 8-foot par putt on the 18th hole by Ryder Cup rookie Chris Riley to help even his and Stewart Cink's morning match with Paul McGinley of Ireland and Luke Donald of England prevented the U.S. team from being shut out in best-ball for the first since 1989 and third time in history.

After a short burst in the afternoon provided the U.S. team with early leads in three of the matches, the Americans collapsed again. The lone bright spot came from Chris DiMarco and 50-year-old captain's pick Jay Haas, who beat Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Thomas Levet of France, 3-and-2.

Just as the sluggish performances by Woods and especially by Mickelson sent the Americans off to a slow start, the magic demonstrated on the greens by Montgomerie and Harrington, who combined for eight birdies and only two bogeys in the first of their two victories yesterday, lifted the Europeans.

`To birdie the first four holes wasn't just necessary, it was required," said Montgomerie, who picked up where he left off two years ago at The Belfry by making birdies on three of the first six holes en route to a 2-and-1 victory. "I thought that it helped the guys behind [them]."

Asked how important it was to beat Woods and Mickelson, European captain Bernhard Langer said, "What we get for two wins is two points, but it's probably worth three or four. It was huge psychologically, a huge blow to the Americans and a huge help to the Europeans."

While Montgomerie and Harrington went on to defeat Davis Love III and former Maryland coach Fred Funk, another Ryder Cup rookie, 4-and-2, in the afternoon, Woods and Mickelson blew an early three-hole advantage to Westwood and Clarke, then double-bogeyed the last hole to lose, 1-up.

Neither Woods nor Mickelson was available for comment last night, but Sutton said, "They ran into a buzz saw early, got behind [in the morning] ... and then I saw a lot of frustration on both of their faces after that. I wanted to see them together. We gave it a good shot and we're going to have to move on."

Sutton was clearly steamed at Mickelson, who has left himself open to second-guessing by changing equipment two weeks ago. Sutton, who plans to bench Mickelson for today's morning matches, will also be subjected to criticism himself after his decision to play Woods and Mickelson backfired.

"Who would have seen that coming?" said Sutton. "And also, who would have seen Davis Love, who played twice today and didn't win a point. You could have owned me today if you wanted to take that bet because I'd have bet it all. I'd have bet the ranch."

There was very little communication or chemistry between the two rivals. It culminated when Mickelson's tee shot on the 18th hole in the afternoon flew 40 yards left of the fairway and bounced off a fence. Standing a few feet behind Mickelson on the tee, Woods looked ill.

The Europeans seemed to feed off the misfortune of the two biggest American stars.

"We knew that if you give Tiger and Phil an opportunity, they are going to take it," said Montgomerie, who improved his Ryder Cup record to 16-7-5, including 12-2-3 since 1995, while Woods dropped to a dismal 5-10-2. "Nothing against their play, we happened to do particularly well."

Now the Americans will try to do what they did at The Country Club, when they clawed their way into the competition on Saturday and stormed past the Europeans in singles on Sunday. Asked whether he would scream at or try to soothe the egos of his players, Sutton wasn't sure.

"I don't think they want to be consoled," he said. "When I get really mad at myself, I don't want somebody patting me on the back and loving on me. I can assure you, I'm not going to be loving on them."

Ryder Cup

Day 1 results: Europe leads United States 6 1/2 -1 1/2

Remaining matches: Today, four morning best-ball matches and four afternoon alternate-shot matches. Tomorrow, 12 singles matches.

Scoring: The 28 matches are each worth one point. A 14-14 tie would result in Europe retaining the Cup because it is the defending champion.

Today's TV: Chs. 11, 4, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

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