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Singled Out

Of Five Matches That Went to 18th Hole Sunday, the U.S. Won None Thereby Handing 1995 Cup to Europe

September 25, 1997|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The place where the Ryder Cup was lost in 1995 got a few new names soon after Europe's stunning, 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory . . . almost before Sam Torrance had a chance to light a cigarette and start swigging champagne.

As far as being a darned fine place to lose, when you look at what happened at Oak Hill Country Club in the cool light of history, it may eventually rank up there with such notable big-time bad-news venues as casinos, the Alamo and the principal's office.

Oak Hill became Choke Hill.

Soak Hill.

Heartbreak Hill.

Whatever it was called, Oak Hill clearly was one hill of a place.

And what was supposed to be an affirmation of U.S. superiority in inter-continental golf instead became a showplace for a golf cart full of unheralded Europeans.

Players such as . . .

* Torrance, whose rumpled appearance makes him appear as though he spent the night in the back seat of his car;

* Howard Clark, whose most recent singles match had been an 8 and 7 loss to Tom Kite in 1989 and the worst defeat in Ryder Cup history;

* Mark James, whose record in singles had been 1-4-1;

* Costantino Rocca, who had missed a short putt to become the goat in the 1993 Ryder Cup and who had played just badly enough to lose the British Open in a playoff two months before the '95 Cup;

* David Gilford, whose name was put in the envelope in 1991 and didn't play in singles, but halved his match with Brad Faxon to tie the U.S., 11 1/2-11 1/2 midway through that fateful Sunday at Choke-Soak-Heartbreak Hill.

In the end, the U.S. had blown the 9-7 lead it held at the start of singles play on Sunday, a lead that grew to 11-8 at one point.

"To look where we started and where we finished, it was a miracle," Ian Woosnam said.

And it wasn't enough. Europe's 6 1/2-2 1/2 finish was the most stunning comeback in the Ryder Cup since Great Britain went 6 1/2-1 1/2 in 1957 at Yorkshire, England.

But defeat this time was in Rochester, N.Y., home of Eastman Kodak. And it wasn't a pretty picture for the U.S.

Proving that polar opposites attract, there were Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo hugging each other. Normally, when they're this close, one of them is trying to stick a sand wedge in the other's back.

Ballesteros lifted Gilford onto his back while Gilford held a glass of champagne. Woosnam and Torrance shook champagne bottles and sprayed the crowd. Per-Ulrik Johansson kissed Philip Walton.

While the European players exulted, the U.S. team was visor-deep in misery.

Especially wounded was Curtis Strange. A controversial captain's pick of Lanny Wadkins, Strange played a pivotal part in the defeat on that numbing last day.

"I can't believe we lost, to be perfectly honest," Strange said.

Actually, it was perfectly understandable. All anybody had to do in three days was win half a point more and the U.S. would have kept the Cup, which does not change hands in the result of a tie.

Sunday, five U.S. players carried matches to the 18th hole; if any had won it, the U.S. would have kept the Cup. All five failed--Peter Jacobsen, Fred Couples, Faxon, Strange and Jay Haas.

A step-by-step look at the meltdown:

JACOBSEN-CLARK

One-down to Clark through 17 holes, Jacobsen hit a perfect drive down the middle of the 18th fairway and hit a six-iron from 173 yards to 25 feet below the hole. But Clark two-putted from 50 feet for par, which meant Jacobsen had to birdie to halve the match.

Jacobsen's putt barely missed to the right. The U.S. lead shrank to 11-9.

COUPLES-WOOSNAM

After driving into the trees on the left, Couples hit a nine-iron into the front bunker, but came out to five feet and made the putt to save par. Woosnam's 20-foot putt for birdie was short, halving the hole and the match. The U.S. still led by two points.

FAXON-GILFORD

Faxon was 1-down through 17, but Gilford was in green-side rough after three shots. Faxon was in the same bunker Couples had been in. He came out to six feet above the hole, but missed the putt for bogey.

Gilford made a 10-footer for bogey, halved the hole and won the match. At that point, the score was tied, 11 1/2-11 1/2.

STRANGE-FALDO

One-up through 15 holes and even through 17, Strange eventually lost, 1-down, when he bogeyed the 18th hole from the middle of the fairway.

Strange's approach found the rough in front of the green, he chipped short, then missed a six-foot par putt. Faldo had 93 yards to the hole for his third shot and hit a wedge to 3 1/2 feet. He made the putt.

"I hit the putt a little hard, but I was just so disgusted by that point," Strange said. "All I've got to do is make a four and we win."

Faldo's victory gave Europe its first lead, 13 1/2-12 1/2.

HAAS-WALTON

To complete the defeat, Haas bogeyed the 18th hole, as did Walton, which halved the hole, secured a 1-up victory for Walton and clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe.

Haas drove into the trees on the left and knocked the ball out to 105 yards from the hole, but his wedge rolled off the front of the green and his only chance to win--a chip for par--rolled six feet past the hole.

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