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U.S. Goes for Singles, as Europe Hits a Homer

Golf: Americans can't make up for Saturday stagger at Valderrama and fail to bring back the Ryder Cup, 14 1/2-13 1/2.

September 29, 1997|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SOTOGRANDE, Spain — So, just how did that Ryder Cup thing go over there in sunny Spain?

Well, it rained every day, the U.S. lost again and its best three players played 13 matches and won exactly once.

You're saying things didn't turn out too well?

Just down the road from Gibraltar, the European team completed its impromptu flamenco on the finest golfing talent in the U.S., turning back a too-late rally and scoring a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory Sunday at Valderrama Golf Club.

Goodness gracious, as Tom Kite would say. This Ryder Cup already has a name: Shock at the Rock.

But there is a bright side to the defeat, which is quite an achievement when it's as dark and rainy and gloomy as it was Sunday on the Costa del Sol.

Down five points at 10 1/2-5 1/2 when the 12 singles matches began, the U.S. got close enough to make the Europeans nervous. And that's something to build on, isn't it?

Europe didn't clinch until Bernhard Langer closed out Brad Faxon, 2 and 1, to make the score 14-11. When Colin Montgomerie and Scott Hoch conceded each other's putts on the 18th hole in the last match to halve their match and end it, the U.S. had an 8-4 edge in the singles and made the final margin respectable.

At least the U.S. team didn't get blown out.

"We almost pulled it off," Tom Lehman said. "It would have been the greatest sports comeback of any sport in history. You have to hand it to our team. We didn't quit."

Lehman surely didn't, not with a 7-and-6 rout of Ignacio Garrido. Neither did Fred Couples, who cut Ian Woosnam down to size, 8 and 7. Or Mark O'Meara, who sent Jesper "Swedish Spaceman" Parnevik back into orbit with a 5-and-4 victory.

Maybe it was that pep talk by former President George Bush at the team dinner Saturday night . . . if only Tom Kite could remember what Bush said.

"It wasn't important what he said," Kite said. "Just that he was there."

Unfortunately for the Americans, they had already messed up Saturday, when seven matches went in the books and the U.S. didn't win one.

That was really tough to stomach, said Jeff Maggert. And he wasn't talking about the ceviche.

"It was just so tough to watch what happened Saturday," he said. "It was actually unbelievable. They holed putt after putt after putt. Today was more like it. That's the kind of team we have. Deep down, I know the 12 guys we have are better players."

Maybe so, but the U.S. didn't get much production from Tiger Woods, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III, the Triple Crown line, the winners of three of the four majors this year.

Woods, Leonard and Love were a combined 1-9-3--Woods was 1-3-1, Love 0-4 and Leonard 0-2-2--and none of them won after the first day.

If each one of the three had won only one point, the Ryder Cup would be heading back to the U.S. instead of sitting up there on the mantel of Seve Ballesteros' fireplace.

Afterward, Ballesteros announced he is stepping down as captain and hopes to qualify as a player for the 1999 team at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Gibraltar will be sawed up to make bookends before this happens.

The post-mortems began quickly.

Europe's winning score was the same as it was in 1995 at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

In the last seven Ryder Cup events, Europe has been the dominant team with four victories to go along with the tie that allowed Europe to retain the cup in 1989.

Kite's mission a failure, he congratulated the European team, then said the only reason they won is because they knew the course better.

Only three U.S. players--O'Meara, Woods and Love--came to Valderrama the week before the British Open to check it out. Kite's only second-guess of himself is that he didn't insist that more players see the course before this week.

Anyway, Kite seemed enthralled by how his losing team played.

"The heart of a lion, the eye of a tiger, they took it to the hoop today," Kite said.

Maybe so, but Woods certainly could have helped out a lot more than he did. Kite sent him out in the third singles match Sunday and Woods came in early, a 4-and-2 loser to Costantino Rocca, known primarily for missing a big putt in the 1993 Ryder Cup, losing the 1995 British Open in a playoff and wearing a dumpy cap.

Lehman said it happens to the best of them.

"Jack got beat," Lehman said. "Arnie got beat. Watson got beat. They all lost in Ryder Cup. Just because you're the best player in the world doesn't mean you can't lose in the Ryder Cup."

Woods had an explanation for what went wrong.

"It's called golf," he said. 'You can't always win. I gave it all I had today. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough. Sometimes, that's just what happens."

That could be what Woods was thinking when he was 4-down and missed a three-footer for birdie at No. 9 while Rocca holed a 20-footer for par.

"That was a big momentum-breaker," he said.

Leonard contributed some of his own on his way to halving his match against Thomas Bjorn. Leonard was 4-up after the first four holes, but he had to come from 1-down after 17 to earn half a point.

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