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Europe Flush With Success as Sutton's Pair of Aces Fold

Woods-Mickelson partnership backfires, and U.S. faces 61/2-11/2 Ryder Cup deficit.

September 18, 2004|Thomas Bonk, | Times Staff Writer

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Is it time to start the Ryder Cup second-guessing?

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were supposed to be golf's new power couple, but they flopped twice.

Mickelson downplayed the effects of his switch to new equipment, yet he nearly knocked his tee shot out of bounds on the last hole with the match on the line.

The U.S. yearned for a quick start but wound up with its biggest first-day deficit in Ryder Cup history.

There are still two days to go, but if they turn out anything like what happened here Friday at Oakland Hills, that old Cup is as good as gone again.

When Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald put the finishing touches on a 2-and-1 alternate-shot victory over Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink, Europe had a 6 1/2 --1 1/2 lead over a beleaguered bunch of guys in blue shirts with red and white stripes.

"I hate to say this, but if the Americans keep this up, it won't be long before [we] are considered the underdog instead of the favorite," U.S. captain Hal Sutton said.

It's not a great situation for the home team. Not only is the U.S. disadvantage of historic dimensions, Europe needs only 7 1/2 points in the last two days to wrap up the Cup for the third time in the last four Ryder Cup matches.

Europe's top players, who showed up calling themselves underdogs, had the satisfaction of knocking off Sutton's heavyweight pairing of Woods and Mickelson -- twice.

As a result, Sutton called off the experiment, then benched Mickelson for this morning's four-ball matches, pairing Woods with Chris Riley.

Sutton said he didn't want to second-guess Mickelson's equipment issue. Mickelson switched club makers 10 days ago.

"We'll all want answers to that," he said. "But the most important person that's going to wonder about that is going to be Phil Mickelson.

"It's not going to cause us any grief in the morning because he's going to be cheering instead of playing."

Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington beat Woods-Mickelson, 2-and-1 in a morning four-ball match, then Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood beat them, 1-up, in the afternoon alternate-shot match. That one ended at the 18th after Woods had to take a penalty drop when Mickelson's three-wood off the tee sailed far to the left and caromed off an out-of-bounds fence about 40 yards off line.

Sutton, who had been dreaming of pairing Woods with Mickelson since being named captain two years ago, admitted it just hadn't worked out.

"You know, when you put two superstars together like that, there's either good karma or there's bad karma [and] they went south in the middle of that second round," Sutton said. "It was pretty evident on both of their faces."

Woods-Mickelson, who'd held a 3-up lead after four holes, had just evened the match at the 17th hole.

Woods had no chance to reach the 18th green from under some trees and near the fence.

It was a costly mistake by Mickelson because Clarke-Westwood closed out the match by winning the hole with a bogey. Woods missed a 20-footer for bogey from a difficult position on the green.

Bernhard Langer, Europe's captain, was delighted with the double defeat for Woods-Mickelson.

"What we get for the two wins is two points, but it's probably worth three or four," he said. "It was huge psychologically, a huge blow to the Americans and a huge help for the Europeans."

Woods did not speak to reporters, but Mickelson offered a brief comment and took the blame for the defeat.

"I let it slide on 18 with a poor tee shot after we pulled even and it basically cost us the match, so it's been a very disappointing day for me," he said.

No one has challenged Mickelson's right to change equipment, from Titleist to Callaway, or the quality of the equipment, but his timing has been scrutinized. He had played in only one tournament, the Canadian Open, with his new driver and fairway woods before the Ryder Cup.

"I wouldn't have done it, but I'm not Phil Mickelson and I'm not in his shoes," Sutton said of the equipment change.

The only winning pairing for the U.S. all day was Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas, who scored a 3-and-2 victory over Miguel Angel Jimenez-Thomas Levet in alternate shot.

In the other alternate-shot match, Davis Love-Fred Funk were overrun by Montgomerie-Harrington, 4 and 2.

The morning four-ball session couldn't have been much worse for the U.S., which never led a match.

If Riley's six-foot putt for par at the 18th hole had failed to go in, the U.S. would have been blanked in the opening matches for the first time in Ryder Cup history.

Instead, Riley and Cink salvaged half a point in their match with Paul McGinley and Donald. As the players got ready for the alternate-shot matches in the afternoon, 3 1/2 -- 1/2 looked bad enough.

Woods and Mickelson played all right against Montgomerie-Harrington, but they got into trouble early when they watched the European team birdie the first four holes and five of the first six, losing 2-and-1.

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