A vast ocean apart

Europe uncorks third straight victory as U.S. fizzles

Europe 18 1/2 United States 9 1/2

Ryder Cup

September 25, 2006|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,LOS ANGELES TIMES

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- As far as Ryder Cup celebrations go, the one the European team staged yesterday at The K Club was hardly a model of restraint. Not that it mattered, of course.

Sergio Garcia flipped his visor backward and emptied an entire bottle of champagne over his head. Henrik Stenson donned a fluffy green and white wig. His shirt soaked with champagne, Padraig Harrington draped himself in an Irish flag and waved it to the crowd. Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson clinked their magnums of champagne together and showered each other with the stuff. On the balcony, in front of a cheering crowd of thousands, Darren Clarke chugged a pint of Guinness, and then Ian Woosnam did the same thing.

Off to the side, somehow managing to be by themselves in the din, Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk watched quietly, hands on their chins. They were not smiling.

The U.S. players have seen Europe's players celebrate a victory in the Ryder Cup before. They saw it at Oak Hill in New York in 1995, at Valderrama in Spain in 1997, at the Belfry in England in 2002, at Oakland Hills in Michigan in 2004. Now they were seeing a repeat performance, on the soggy grass of a parklands course in the middle of Ireland at the end of another losing Ryder Cup effort.

The score yesterday was 18 1/2 -9 1/2 , a blowout that ties the 2004 event for the worst U.S. loss.

"Our team came ready to play," said Tom Lehman, the U.S. captain. "I guess we didn't come ready enough.

"At the end of the day, the European team just played better."

There were 28 matches played over three days and the U.S. won only six of them - three involving Woods.

That simply wasn't enough for the U.S., which began its three-day journey to defeat when Woods knocked a ball into the water and ended when Chris DiMarco knocked two in a row in the water in the last match yesterday.

Woods has played on four Ryder Cup teams, but only one that has won, in 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

"I'm not real happy," Woods said. "It doesn't sit well, nor should it. They just outplayed us."

Luke Donald made sure Europe would retain the Ryder Cup with at least a tie when his 1-up victory over Chad Campbell produced the 14th point. Stenson made it 15-8 when he rolled in a 5-foot putt to defeat Vaughn Taylor, 5 and 4.

Donald said he believed from the start that there would likely be no U.S. comeback yesterday.

"We truly believed they had to do something spectacular to win," he said.

There were clues things weren't going to go well for the U.S. Colin Montgomerie hit a shot into the 11th green and his ball struck a rock. Holding a 1-up lead over American David Toms, it could have been disaster for Montgomerie, but instead of heading into the water, the ball bounced toward the green and Montgomerie kept his lead.

Then there was Woods' caddie, Steve Williams, losing Woods' 9-iron when he slipped while cleaning the blade and accidentally dropped the club into the water at the seventh hole. A diver returned the club to Woods on the back nine.

So how much has changed in two years, since 2004 at Oakland Hills? Almost nothing. The score was the same, the outcome just as convincing, and the answers just as hard to grasp.

Here are the numbers: three consecutive defeats for the U.S., five losses in the past six Ryder Cups and eight in the past 11.

And in the concluding singles matches yesterday, a forum that was once dominated by the U.S., it was another landslide for Europe. The winners took 8 1/2 out of the 12 points left on the table, the only full points for the U.S. coming from Stewart Cink and Scott Verplank, the two captain's picks, and from Woods, the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

Trailing 10-6 to start the day, the U.S. staged a modest comeback when Woods defeated Karlsson, 2 and 1, and Cink put an end to Garcia's four-match unbeaten run with a 4-and-3 decision. With Montgomerie's 1-up victory over Toms sandwiched between the two, the U.S. got to within 11-8.

Montgomerie has never lost in Ryder Cup singles, a 6-0-2 record.

By the time the U.S. scored again Sunday, when Paul McGinley conceded a 30-foot putt to J.J. Henry to halve their match, it didn't matter. It was 16-8 and all that was left was for the final score to be posted.

Clarke, playing only a month after his wife, Heather, died of breast cancer, was popular in both team rooms and with the galleries for his courage, winning all three of his matches.

"For him to even be here is one thing, but for him to play as well as he did, it's unbelievable," Woods said.

As for the list of U.S. heroes, Woods wound up with three points to lead the U.S., but Phil Mickelson was shut out, losing four matches and halving another. Jose Maria Olazabal defeated Mickelson, 2 and 1, yesterday.

Woods and Mickelson, the top ranked players in the world, have not excelled in the Ryder Cup, which might be related to the lack of U.S. success. Woods is 10-13-2 and Mickelson is 9-12-4, but he is 1-9-1 in his past 11 matches dating to 2002.

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