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Americans Need to Be Big Singles Hitters

They find themselves in a familiar hole after Europeans continue domination of match play.

September 24, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

STRAFFAN, Ireland — It's just about time to fire up those engines on the charter jet, pack up the Ralph Lauren duds, stick that Ryder Cup optimism in cold storage for two more years, shake hands and say goodbye, because this thing is pretty much out of reach for the U.S. once again.

Of course, it's not over until it's over, but that moment is approaching faster than you can say "hole in one," which is exactly what Paul Casey shouted Saturday afternoon after he aced the 14th hole to close out another victory for Europe.

There simply was no stopping the Europeans. They doubled their first-day advantage from two points to four, hold a commanding 10-6 lead after Saturday's matches and need only four points out of the 12 singles matches today to win once again.

That would make it five victories in the last six Ryder Cups, three in a row, and a powerful match-play dynamic that the U.S. simply hasn't been able to equal.

"But there is no complacency in our camp at all," Colin Montgomerie said.

Meanwhile, there is still hope for the U.S., but not a great deal of it. The last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup was at Brookline Country Club in 1999, when it trailed by the same 10-6 margin after two days.

But the U.S. won the first six matches, outscored Europe, 8 1/2 -3 1/2 , and won, 14 1/2 -13 1/2 , pulling off the biggest last-day comeback in Ryder Cup history.

When Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk won the last alternate-shot match early Saturday evening, a 3-and-2 victory over Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, it brightened the mood, at least a little.

"It definitely helps," Furyk said. "Because 10-6 is an awful way to come back from. But we've done it before."

The cold facts are that after two days, the U.S has won three of the 16 matches.

Furyk-Woods have two of the three victories, the first match Friday morning and the last one Saturday. The other victory came from Ryder Cup rookie Zach Johnson and captain's pick Scott Verplank, who defeated Henrik Stenson and Harrington, 2 and 1, in a best-ball match Saturday morning.

Woods, who has 2-2 record, said the challenge is daunting.

"It's tough," he said. "It's important we have a good start. We did it at Brookline, hopefully we can do the same again.

"I need to get my point. And the rest of the guys need to do the same."

That's what Tom Lehman, the U.S. captain, is banking on.

"I know that our team has a chance. I know that our team has the ability to get it done. I think that our team is going to play some incredibly inspired golf."

Chief tormentor of the U.S. is a smiling Sergio Garcia, who won twice more on Saturday and is 4-0 after two days and feeling good about the way things are going for Europe.

"It is awesome," he said.

For some reason, Garcia saves his most charismatic moments for the Ryder Cup, whether he's grinning from ear to ear, talking to his ball as it flies to the green or collapsing in laughter after winning another match. He has been a fixture on the Ryder Cup since 1999 when he was 19 and his record shows he also saves his successful moments for the Ryder Cup -- a 14-3-2 record. At 26, Garcia has won six times on the PGA Tour, but hasn't broken through to win a major. He has played on two winning Ryder Cup teams and has a chance today for a third.

Phil Mickelson is 0-3-1 so far after losing twice Saturday. Mickelson-Toms were defeated by Garcia-Luke Donald, 2 and 1, in the afternoon alternate-shot format and Mickelson lost with Chris DiMarco as his partner, 3 and 2, to Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal in a best-ball match in the morning.

With half a point, Mickelson has the same total as Ryder Cup rookie Vaughn Taylor, who played for the first time and halved his alternate-shot match with Chad Campbell against Montgomerie and Lee Westwood.

In the morning, the U.S. fell another point behind, a best-ball session noteworthy for the unexpected lowlight that Woods knocked two more balls into the water and did not have a birdie.

As the rain started and stopped as if someone was flipping a switch, Woods and Furyk were sloshed around by Clarke and Westwood, 3 and 2, the same margin that Mickelson-DiMarco saw.

If it weren't for Johnson and J. J. Henry, another unheralded Ryder Cup rookie, the morning best-ball matches would have looked even worse for the U.S. Johnson had seven birdies, the last one at the 17th hole when he chipped in for a dramatic 2-and-1 victory with partner Verplank.

Henry was close to achieving similar results in his best-ball match with Stewart Cink against Casey and Robert Karlsson. Henry eagled the 16th hole to square the match, birdied the 17th to take a 1-up lead, then reached the 18th green in two and stood over a 60-foot eagle putt to win. The ball slid 12 feet past the hole on the rain-slickened green and Henry's birdie putt to win grazed the left side of the hole, but stayed out.

Casey made the most of his chance, rolling in his birdie putt from five feet to win the hole and halve the match.

It was a big day for Casey, who closed out his alternate-shot match with a hole in one. He aced the 213-yard 14th hole with a four-iron to abruptly end a 5-and-4 victory over Johnson and Cink.

It remains to be seen whose day will be the biggest today when the one-on-one matches decide the Ryder Cup.

*

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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