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RYDER CUP NOTES

It's a Narrow Margin for Error for the U.S.

September 28, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — In their better-ball match Friday morning, David Duval and Davis Love III used their drivers a total of four times between them.

Blame the Belfry, said Paul Azinger.

"It's a home-course advantage and they clearly took advantage of it," Azinger said. "I think the golf course has definitely neutralized the strength of the American team. We have a more powerful team, big hitters like Tiger [Woods] and Phil Mickelson and Davis and David. They've got to pull back the reins.

"I'm not saying you've got a short team on the European side, but certainly not as long. And I think if it was driver on driver, we might have a little bit of an edge, but the driver has been taken out of our hands for the most part."

Instead of length as a factor, the course has been set up with narrow fairways and spongy rough. Duval said the setup reminded him of Carnoustie, the site of the 1999 British Open.

Love said he understands the decision-making process.

"It's obvious, [they] didn't want it to become a long drive contest, or who can hit it the farthest in the fairway contest," he said. "I don't understand that because they've got a lot of long hitters on their team ... but it's narrow out there."

*

Woods is 3-8-1 in the Ryder Cup. U.S. captain Curtis Strange was even asked afterward if it was a cinch that Woods would play five times.

"No, it's not engraved in stone he's going to play all five matches," said Strange, who backtracked immediately.

"When you have a player on your team that is the caliber of Tiger Woods ... whatever the record, I'm not sitting him down. You go with your horses. If you get beat, you get beat. But you go with your horses, and that's what I intend to do."

It didn't take long for Woods to get upset. It happened on the first hole in the morning better-ball match, after his tee shot landed in a bunker. He hit his next shot out but complained immediately that a camera had clicked in his downswing.

"I never asked [Tiger] about it," said Azinger, who was playing with Woods. "I didn't want him to dwell on it beyond that instant."

*

If things had gone any better for Sam Torrance during the morning round, he might have exploded with joy.

In a span of about four minutes, Europe's captain said "fantastic," "wonderful," "brilliant," "magic," "great," "brilliant" (again), "sensational," "great" (again), "incredible," "fantastic" (again), and "electric."

The comeback by the U.S. team in the afternoon's best-ball matches failed to dampen Torrance's enthusiasm.

Said Torrance: "If we get the last two days rained out, we've won."

And this: "The crowds were just amazing. I didn't see one drunk yet. Yet. But I might be one of them after today."

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