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U.S. Is Singled Out at Belfry

Golf: Europe dominates individual match play, supposedly Americans' strength, and reclaims Ryder Cup, 151/2-121/2.

September 30, 2002|THOMAS BONK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England — Gentlemen, start your second-guessing. Now that the Ryder Cup is staying here on the continent, we need answers to a few vital questions.

For instance ...

How could Phil Mickelson lose to this Phillip Price?

What happened to the singles party the U.S. planned? How could the U.S. win two, yes, only two singles matches Sunday, with the identities of those two players being Scott Verplank and David Toms?

Did Sam Torrance outfox Curtis Strange by stacking the top of his lineup with his best players?

Was Europe's home-cooking show of slowing down the greens, narrowing the fairways and growing the rough that much of an advantage, and should the U.S players have adjusted better?

Uh, Paul McGinley?

And so it goes, but that happens when you lose. And lose the U.S. did, 15 1/2-12 1/2. There will always be a lot more questions about why you lost than why you won, and so for the time being, it's going to be open season on the question front, probably until the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich.

Mickelson's quixotic relationship with big events is a good place to start.

He's known as the best player never to win a major championship and now has another unhappy label to wear--the player who couldn't beat Price with the Ryder Cup on the line.

It's questionable whether the U.S. would have won anyway, considering that McGinley's putt on the 18th hole clinched the Ryder Cup with two matches still out on the course, but Sunday at the Belfry will not rank very high among Mickelson's accomplishments.

How exactly does the second-ranked player in the world lose, 3 and 2, to the 119th-ranked player in the world? At least we know how he felt about it.

"I'm not too thrilled," Mickelson said.

That's understandable, but what transpired Sunday in the fourth Ryder Cup held here in the North Berwickshire countryside actually deserves to rank high in the thrill department, regardless of the outcome.

Europe won four of the first six matches and halved another, then held on to upset the U.S. and claim the Ryder Cup for the first time since 1997.

"Once we saw the draw, we knew we were going to win," Jesper Parnevik said. "Sam did exactly the right thing."

After Torrance, Europe's captain, swigged from a bottle of champagne and was thrown into the lake near the 18th green in a victory celebration, his counterpart admitted the obvious.

"They just played well," said Strange, the U.S. captain. "They just beat us. We got a European butt-whipping today. Sam, I think he gambled a bit at the start, but it paid off.

"And look at Phillip Price. He beat Phil Mickelson into the ground. All you can do is congratulate him."

It's unfair to place too much blame on Mickelson, when the supposedly superior U.S. team won only two of the 12 singles matches and halved five.

Not even Tiger Woods could do much about the outcome. By the time Woods reached the first tee, Europe led the first six matches and seven of the first eight. Woods earned a half-point, conceding a par putt to Parnevik with the matches already decided.

McGinley had made sure of that. The 35-year-old Ryder Cup rookie from Dublin watched his eight-foot putt roll straight into the hole to earn the half-point that made a European victory certain.

Verplank's 2-and-1 victory over Lee Westwood had kept the U.S. boat afloat, and within two points at 12 1/2-10 1/2, but Mickelson couldn't keep up with Price and lost for the first time in four singles matches. While Price was obviously right, with five birdies and no bogeys, Mickelson wasn't as lucky. He lost two holes with bogeys and missed a three-foot putt for birdie to drop another.

"I knew my match was going to be a critical point and that seemed to put a little bit of pressure on me to get off to a fast start," Mickelson said. "When I didn't, it made it difficult to come back."

Mickelson said he had not been overconfident, just beaten by somebody who had played better.

He wouldn't be the only U.S. player to take that stand. Except for David Duval, who earned a difficult half-point in his match against Darren Clarke, most of the early going was fairly brutal for the U.S.

Colin Montgomerie, who went 4-0-1 over the three days, began the assault with six birdies and a 5-and-4 rout of Scott Hoch. Padraig Harrington won by the same 5-and-4 score over Mark Calcavecchia, who had four bogeys and no birdies. When Bernhard Langer finished off Hal Sutton, 4 and 3, the tone for the day seemed to be established.

Hoch said he thought he was ready for Montgomerie, but miscalculated.

"That's as good as I've seen anybody play, especially putting," Hoch said.

Toms reduced Europe's lead to 11-9 with a 1-up victory over Sergio Garcia. The match turned when Garcia had a 2-up advantage and tried to drive the par-four 10th hole. His ball landed in deep rough and he wound up losing the hole to Toms, who laid up and made a birdie.

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