Europe closes out U.S. in Ryder

Montgomerie's win clinches 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory

differential ties record for most decisive

September 20, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - The European team has come a long way since winning its first Ryder Cup in 1985. Not only did the team that arrived last week as underdog leave again with the gleaming gold trophy, but it also found a place in the record books.

With an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 victory yesterday in the 35th Ryder Cup over an American team that was as uninspired as it was overrated, the Europeans equaled the mark for the largest point differential since the competition expanded beyond Great Britain and Ireland in 1979. The United States has now lost four of the past five competitions, and six of the past 10.

After an early flurry gave the U.S. team and its fans at Oakland Hills some hope, however faint, of erasing the six-point deficit the Americans faced going into the 12 singles matches, the reality that the Europeans would win came swiftly. The last putt - Padraig Harrington's 30-foot downhill for par in the final match - punctuated the victory.

It was, by then, long over, as Lee Westwood of England clinched at least a tie more than an hour before to ensure that Europe, which had won at The Belfry in 2002, would retain the cup. A few minutes later, a player whose career has been highlighted mostly by his remarkable Ryder Cup record clinched victory outright.

As Colin Montgomerie's 4-foot par putt fell into the cup to secure a 1-up victory over David Toms, the Scottish player dropped his putter, raised his arms and ran over to give European captain Bernhard Langer the first of many bearhugs. It begin a raucous celebration by the players, caddies and the fans who serenaded their heroes in song.

"It's as good a team as we've ever had," said Montgomerie, a captain's choice who was able to put aside much-publicized personal problems that included having his divorce made final last week. Montgomerie won three of the four matches in which he played. "Personally it means nothing. This is all about a team event."

That was the essence of this year's event. The Americans can boast of having three of the top six players in the world rankings - the Europeans have only one, the eighth-ranked Harrington of Ireland in the top 10 - but they didn't begin to bond until it was way too late. An emotional team meeting Saturday night had only a brief effect.

After Tiger Woods got his team off to a good start and went on to a 3-and-2 victory against Ryder Cup rookie Paul Casey of England, the chance of a U.S. comeback deteriorated quickly. Though one fan yelled at Woods, "We believe in miracles, Tiger," as he walked down the first fairway, there would be none on this sunny afternoon.

If anything, the Americans played much the way they had the first two days, wilting down the stretch in tight matches. The Europeans won seven of the day's 12 matches and tied one.

Up two holes on Sergio Garcia of Spain going to the ninth tee, Phil Mickelson watched the 24-year-old Spaniard win four of the next five holes - including three straight birdies in one stretch -to win, 3 and 2. Mickelson's questionable approach on the par-4 16th hole found its way into a pond to end any chance for the reigning Masters champion.

Up two holes over Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland going to the 16th tee, Davis Love III lost the next two holes and halved the match. After Jim Furyk briefly staved the bleeding with a 6-and-4 win over Ryder Cup rookie David Howell of England - it was Furyk's first point of the week - Westwood and Montgomerie closed it out.

"Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love are supposed to play great and none of us did," said Love, alluding to the combined 4-9-1 record of the top three players that included his own 1-3-1 mark.

Said Woods, who went 2-3: "Basically they just flat-out outplayed us."

With the exception of Chris DiMarco, no American player had a winning record and two players, former Maryland coach Fred Funk and Kenny Perry, didn't earn a point. In contrast, only one European player, Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain, had a losing record and all 12 earned at least a point.

"We had strength and depth for the first time," said Montgomerie. "But we didn't realize how strong, to almost double their points. That's remarkable. All four wins have given us satisfaction, but this is possibly the best feeling ever."

It was certainly satisfying for Langer, who despite having the second most points in Ryder Cup history (24) had been remembered mostly for the 4-foot putt he missed against Hale Irwin on the final hole at Kiawah Island that caused him to lose a chance at retaining the trophy for Europe.

"You gain success through failure or you learn about things," said Langer, who won two Masters. "I've had great experiences as a player in the Ryder Cup. I've had some other ones. I don't think it can get any better than this has been this week."

The margin of defeat and the many moves that backfired were humbling for U.S. captain Hal Sutton, who had been the emotional leader of the 1999 team that made a historic comeback at The Country Club outside Boston but will now be remembered for the most one-sided U.S. defeat in the history of the event.

"I'm not going to spend the rest of my life second-guessing myself," Sutton said. "If we had played better and putted better, I would have looked like a genius. Now I look like an idiot."

(Results, Page 8d)

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