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U.S. Gets Out of Woods' 0-for-2 Effort

Golf: Mickelson and Cink help Americans rally within a point after fast start by Europeans.

September 28, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — Tiger Woods lost both times he played, the U.S. dropped three of the first four matches on opening day, Sergio Garcia won twice and you figure, what, the Ryder Cup is just some swanky European vacation?

Anything to declare?

Yes, a blowout.

Actually, it was beginning to look that way Friday at the Belfry, but the United States got some help from some unexpected places (uh, a Stewart Cink-Jim Furyk team?), wrung out a crucial half-point from Phil Mickelson and David Toms after they were three down through 14, and by nightfall trailed by a little instead of a lot.

Europe still leads the U.S., 4 1/2--3 1/2, but it probably should have been a lot more than that. And it sure seemed to be heading that direction after Woods and Mark Calcavecchia got dropped by a 2-and-1 punch from Garcia-Lee Westwood in the alternate-shot format.

"I thought I hit the ball well," Woods said. "I can't remember the last time we were up after the first day."

As it turned out, Tiger's day was a total washout. He also lost his morning better-ball match with Paul Azinger when the U.S. fell behind, 3-1.

"If anyone thought this was going to be easy, they were proven wrong," U.S. captain Curtis Strange said.

Strange used everyone he had, just as he said he would, and it was a wise decision. Hal Sutton might be in a slump, but he teamed with Scott Verplank to score a 2-and-1 decision over Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn in the first alternate-shot match of the afternoon session.

Garcia, who won both his matches paired with Lee Westwood, pulled away from Woods-Calcavecchia beginning at the 11th hole. Tiger and Calcavecchia had three bogeys in a four-hole stretch, and Woods also missed a two-foot putt for par at the 12th.

There were other ailments as well, such as going without a birdie from the fifth to the 17th.

"He did play well this morning, but he let it get away this afternoon a bit," Strange said of Woods. "That hurts. You cannot slip at all in these matches. He doesn't feel good right now, and that's good. That makes you come back hungrier."

The way it was collapsing, Strange was going to have trouble drawing a smiley face on this thing.

But Cink, who had never played in the Ryder Cup, and Furyk, who had never won a Ryder Cup match with a partner, gave the U.S. some momentum with a relatively easy 3-and-2 victory over Padraig Harrington-Paul McGinley.

Mickelson and Toms were sinking fast in their match against Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer. Mickelson sank a three-footer to birdie the 15th, Mickelson holed another putt from the fringe to birdie the 16th and after Langer drove into a bunker at the 17th, Montgomerie conceded a birdie putt to Mickelson to square the match.

Mickelson drove into the rough on No. 18 and Toms managed to get the ball on the front of the green, about 120 feet from the pin. Langer missed the green with his second shot. Mickelson decided to play a chip shot instead of putting and sent the ball about 12 feet past the hole. Montgomerie nearly holed his chip shot, but the ball rolled 10 feet past.

Toms missed the putt for par, but so did Langer and the hole was halved with bogeys.

"We would have liked to win that point, I think we really deserved it, but we're still in the lead," Garcia said.

Said Strange: "The half-point was huge for our psyche. If we do well Sunday afternoon, we might look back at that match and say that might have been the one that turned it around."

Sunday looks a long way off right now. In today's better-ball matches, Mickelson and Toms play Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price, Cink and Furyk play Garcia and Westwood, Verplank and Scott Hoch play Montgomerie and Langer and Woods teams with Davis Love III against Clarke and Bjorn.

The better-ball matches Friday morning proved one thing: Never count out a team with a guy named Niclas. Of course, in this case, it's Niclas Fasth, the 30-year-old Ryder Cup rookie from Sweden, but never mind. By lunchtime, the U.S. had another case of indigestion and Europe had a 3-1 advantage in the early going.

Getting off to a slow start isn't exactly a new approach for the U.S., which seems to begin every Ryder Cup in full-throttle reverse.

If it weren't for a 1-up victory produced by Mickelson-Toms over Harrington-Fasth, the U.S. would have come up empty. That hasn't happened in the first-day better-ball format since 1989, but it always seems to give the U.S. trouble.

In fact, the U.S. has won the better-ball format on opening day only once since 1979.

With a 3-up lead through 12 holes, Mickelson-Toms looked like a sure thing, but it nearly turned out differently. Harrington's putt that spun out of the hole at the 18th would have halved the match and taken away the only U.S. victory.

"It was a little disappointing start," Love said.

Love was correct in his assessment, but he could have been talking about the match he played with David Duval against Westwood-Garcia. Love didn't make a single birdie and Westwood-Garcia won easily, 4-and-3.

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