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U.S. seeks a Lefty turn

Mickelson is being counted on to change U.S. Ryder Cup fortunes, and he'll lead off today with Kim.

September 19, 2008|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- He has been swinging under the radar so far this week, but the wraps come off Phil Mickelson early today when the Ryder Cup finally gets going. There surely must be some Mickelson moments if the U.S. is going to reverse its steeply downhill momentum against Europe.

Up to now, there haven't been many Mickelson mentions, which is odd because he is, after all, the second-best player in his field and the highest-ranked player in the world on site at Valhalla Golf Club, a place where Tiger Woods is not.

As hard as it may be to believe, Mickelson has gotten lost in the shuffle. Yes, he has been out there bumping knuckles with fans, passing out pins and grinning his way around the course.

There has been loads of talk about some of the other players -- the Kentucky-fried duo of Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes, the great expectations for 23-year-old Ryder Cup rookie Anthony Kim, the chip-on-his shoulder approach of U.S. captain Paul Azinger and even some mentions after the revelation that the U.S. players sing in the team room.

"We do have karaoke," Stewart Cink said. "It's a pretty sad show, but we do have karaoke."

But except for a brief interview in the media center Tuesday, Mickelson simply hasn't gotten a lot of coverage. And when he did tune in, he didn't reveal much, even when asked if there's more pressure on him because of his status and Woods' absence.

"My only responsibility is to play well," he said. "Hopefully we'll be sharp and have our A-game because we know that our competition is very strong."

Maybe Mickelson will let his play do the talking, although he has apparently been a vocal force in the team room.

In terms of longevity and age, Mickelson is the elder statesman on the U.S. team at 38. This is his seventh Ryder Cup, he has played 25 matches, his record is 9-12-4 and he has won a total of 11 points -- the same amount as Woods in the same number of matches.

Mickelson won three points in his first Ryder Cup in 1995 at Oak Hill, where Corey Pavin led the way with a 4-1 record. The U.S. lost that one on the last day, firmly establishing a losing pattern that has not been altered, except for the lone U.S. victory since, in 1999 at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Mickelson has a chance to start turning that around, partnering with Kim in the first of the four alternate-shot matches, against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson.

Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan will play Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey in the second match, Cink and Chad Campbell will play Justin Rose and Ian Poulter in the third match and Perry and Jim Furyk will play Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia in the last of the morning matches.

There are two streaks of note on the line: The U.S. hasn't won the Friday morning matches since 1985 and Garcia has never lost at alternate shot and is 8-0.

Azinger said Mickelson called him weeks ago and asked to be paired with Kim.

"I said 'Way to go out on a limb, Phil; you want Anthony Kim, really?' " Azinger said. "So I granted his wish for this first go-around."

Mickelson's stature as a three-time major champion, a 34-time winner on the PGA Tour and as the No. 2-ranked player in the world has increased expectations this week for him to excel, whether he feels it or not, even though he is only part of a 12-player team.

However, Mickelson remains the biggest part. That's not the level on which he played in the last two Ryder Cup competitions, the largest U.S. defeats in history: 18 1/2 -9 1/2 . In 2004 at Oakland Hills in Michigan, Mickelson was 1-3 and lost to Garcia in singles. In 2006 at the K Club in Ireland, Mickelson was 0-4-1 and lost to Jose Maria Olazabal in singles.

But with the heralded Kim and five other Ryder Cup rookies in line this time, Mickelson said there was no baggage for them to carry.

"Not being a part of the last few U.S. teams is not necessarily a bad thing," he said. "So the guys who haven't played, they have never lost this event."

Cink agreed that the past Ryder Cup failures should have no effect on the U.S. rookies.

"Here we are with a fresh team," Cink said. "We've got a fresh captain and we have a fresh course. It would really do us no good to dwell on the past.

"What Phil meant . . . was that it's not a bad thing to [not] have the memory of losing for these guys. To have these players that are new, that haven't had the sting of defeat, it's a good thing. But also, you've got to understand how motivated we are by this. We do not like to lose. Not one person on our team enjoys coming up here and just walking around and getting our butts kicked."

The format for the four afternoon matches is four-ball, or better-ball; pairings will be announced after the morning matches.




37th Ryder Cup

Where: Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Ky.

When: Today-Sunday

TV today: ESPN, 5 a.m.

Today's alternate-shot matches:

1. Phil Mickelson-Anthony Kim vs. Padraig Harrington-Robert Karlsson

2. Justin Leonard-Hunter Mahan vs. Paul Casey-Henrik Stenson

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