Commentary

25 questions for 28 points

Updated: September 30, 2010, 11:32 AM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Pavin/MontgomerieAP Photo/Matt DunhamThere are many questions heading into this year's Ryder Cup match that captains Corey Pavin (left) and Colin Montgomerie might not have figured into their strategies.

The Ryder Cup is not golf. It's kind of like a Jets-Sharks rumble in bad clothes. It's booing, cheering for missed 3-footers, and champagne coming out of Ian Woosnam's nose. It's a pizza oven of pressure where careers are soldered (Colin Montgomerie) and sunk (Hal Sutton) in three days of bedlam.

And this one, starting Friday in Newport, Wales, promises to be hairier than a barber's dustpan. There are 28 points up for snatching. First one to 14 (OK, 14½ for the Euros) wins!

Get out your calculator and follow along:

Does it mean anything that the Americans have made Ryder Cup history by staging a comeback before the thing even starts?

You think? Behind Matt Kuchar's killer summer, Jim Furyk's $11.35 million double win Sunday at the Tour Championship/FedEx Cup, and this country placing nine Ryder Cup team members in the top 25 at the Tour Championship to Europe's one, the odds of the Americans winning have gone from 7-to-4 against them in London to even money now at some punters.

POINT: USA. (USA leads, 1-0.)

Can the Ryder Cup change Tiger Woods' awful, horrible, terrible, really bad year?

Yes. If Woods can finally not look like he's going to an audit in the first two days' team competition (he's only 7-12-1 when he's playing with a partner) and actually contribute to an American victory (he has played in five Cups and lost four), his image will get a spit shine and his year will have a happy epilogue.

This is how bad it's gotten for Woods: Rory McIlroy said he'd love to play Tiger this week, insinuating that he's not the player he once was. Tiger's reaction? "Me, too."

Maybe a Ryder Cup finally means something big to him now. Woods can finally come off as something he's never been before -- the good teammate, the unselfish superstar, the redeemed man. Playing as a captain's pick (unthinkable!), perhaps not playing every match (never happened before!), playing for nothing but pride of country and friends (uncharacteristic!), Woods could win back entire warehouses of fans.

But if he plays slump-shouldered, looks uninterested, and continues to swear and fling 5-irons around like a trust fund teenager -- while wearing the red, white and blue, no less! -- he could be written off by many fans for good and forever.

Something's got to change. Why not now?

POINT: USA. (USA leads, 2-0.)

[+] EnlargeKandi Harris
Orlan H. Ree, Jr./Icon SMIHunter Mahan's fiancee, Kandi Harris, is a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader.

Will Hunter Mahan's new wife, ex-Cowboys cheerleader Kandi Harris, be the hottest WAG at the opening-night ceremony, propelling Mahan to greatness?

Yes, plus she was a former Dallas Mavericks dancer, too.

POINT: USA. (USA leads, 3-0.)

Why did Monty insist on having his team room soundproofed and the Americans didn't?

"I don't know," Corey Pavin says. "I guess he didn't want anybody to listen. There's not going to be a whole lot said in our team room that's going to be real top-secret stuff. Maybe Monty's speeches are going to be more, I don't know, important?"

Uh-oh. What has Monty thought up that Pavin hasn't?

POINT: Euros. (USA leads, 3-1.)

Will Phil Mickelson get his medication right?

There were some early worries in the USA camp that Mickelson's medication for psoriatic arthritis (Enbrel) would plague him on the road. Mickelson must self-inject it once a week for one year. It has to be kept between 36 and 46 degrees in an ice chest or cooler. Side effects can be dizziness, headaches, dizziness, runny nose and throat irritation.

Mickelson's people say he has it figured out and say he and his new vegetarian diet are ready to kung-fu some people. Hasn't happened before -- his Ryder Cup record is a throat-irritating 10-14-6. With both his mom and his wife fighting cancer, Phil is a walking medicine cabinet right now.

POINT: Euros. (USA leads, 3-2.)

Although Monty never won a major, he is the greatest modern Ryder Cupper. … If you're a Yank, you gotta love seeing the tubby Troon titan riding a cart.

Can America finally win one on the road this millennium?

Hasn't happened since 1993.

POINT: Euros. (Tied, 3-3.)

Why is Monty captaining and not playing?

Excellent question. Really, if you're the USA, you'd much rather have Monty filling out forms than holes. Although Monty never won a major, he is the greatest modern Ryder Cupper. If Nick Faldo had picked him for the last one -- as he should've -- Monty probably would've passed Faldo's record for Ryder Cup points and the Euros might've stolen the cup in Kentucky. If you're a Yank, you gotta love seeing the tubby Troon titan riding a cart.

TWO POINTS: USA. (USA leads, 5-3.)

Can our fabulously talented mop of hair beat their fabulously talented mop of hair?

That would be California's Rickie Fowler, 21, versus Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, also 21. If they match up in singles, it could be like seeing Faldo play Greg Norman in 1976. Both of these Mozarts are unafraid of the big scene, have Godzilla games and rarely visit barbers. Fowler was a motocross star and phenom pitcher before he chose golf. He has a startling Walker Cup record (7-1).

"There's a reason I chose him," Pavin says. "It wasn't me taking a chance. It was me making a choice. He's really mature, very calm. He sees the big picture. He's a guy that can handle anything."

Still, McIlroy is a god with lampshade hair. He's ranked eighth in the world. And Monty already has told him he'll be playing with countryman Graeme McDowell, a perfect partner for him.

TWO POINTS: Euros. (Tied, 5-5.)

Will Fowler have to wear an old person's hat?

No. Word is, they're going to give him his own style of lid, which is skateboarder cool and the size of a side-by-side freezer. Sadly, they're not going to let him wear Oklahoma State orange on Sunday.

HALF POINT: USA. (USA leads, 5.5-5.)

Will Jim Gray be there to distract Pavin?

No, he is not credentialed. One of Golf Channel's diggingest reporters not credentialed to a golf tournament with about 1,000 stories? This, on the heels of the famous verbal brawl between Gray and Pavin and Pavin's wife, Lisa, at the PGA? Hmmmm. Pavin paranoia?

HALF-POINT: Euros. (Tied, 5.5-5.5.)

Did Monty really pick Paddy Harrington instead of Paul Casey?

Yes, and it's the most anvil-brained captain move since Hal Sutton handcuffed Tiger to Phil and wore that awful cowboy hat in 2004. Harrington hasn't won in 25 months. He missed the cut at the PGA. He got bounced from the FedEx Cup. He didn't win a single match -- not one! -- in his past two Ryder Cups (0-7-2).

Casey, meanwhile, is the No. 7 player in the world and just finished sixth in the FedEx Cup. If Monty needs him, he'll be sitting on his couch, cackling.

POINT: USA. (USA leads, 6.5-5.5.)

Speaking of golf carts, will Monty's be seemingly turbocharged the way Seve Ballesteros' was in 1997?

No, according to Pavin. "It's in the captain's agreements," he says. "The carts will be of the same relative speed." What do they do, race them each morning to be sure?

POINT: Halved. (USA leads, 7-6.)

Can our new, hot guy beat their new, hot guy?

Tough call. We have Kuchar, who started the year ranked 64th in the world and is now 11th. They have the German, Martin Kaymer, who won the PGA and is fifth in the world. Nobody had a hotter year than Kuchar, who wound up first in scoring this season and might just be your player of the year. But the guy has had a chaotic six months, just moved into a new house and showed signs of burnout to a crisp last week in Atlanta.

Kaymer, meanwhile, hits it long and straight and putts like Billy Casper on beta-blockers.

POINT: Euros. (Tied, 7-7.)

Whose players will Monty annoy the most, ours or theirs?

Monty is a witty, competitive wiseass who gets under more skin than a hematologist. He's had famous feuds with Nick Faldo, Thomas Bjorn, Ian Poulter, Sandy Lyle and Darren Clarke, not to mention his first wife, his latest wife, his mistress and an actress/model he had to get an injunction against.

He not only loved having an eyeball-rattling record in Ryder Cups (6-0-2 in singles) but could be obnoxious about it. I can remember 1997, sitting on the 18th green at Valderrama in Spain, the Euros already having wrapped up the win, with Monty's match versus Scott Hoch all tied. Hoch had about a 20-footer for par, and Monty had a 3-footer for par. Tradition compels that putt to be conceded by Monty. All the American players sitting on the green were hollering and hooting at Monty. I can still hear Mark O'Meara yelling, "Give him the putt, you fat f---!" But Monty wouldn't do it. Not until Euro captain Ballesteros came up and suggested that Monty concede it to him did Monty finally give in, halving the match.

Now, fast-forward two years, when the USA had already won The Miracle of Brookline with Justin Leonard's famous putt, leaving only one match on the course -- Payne Stewart vs. Monty. Stewart had a red, white and blue Uncle Sam hat in his bag he was going to yank out and wear when the Americans pulled off the come-from-behind upset, but he didn't take it out. "I just couldn't do it to Monty," Stewart told his teammates. Then, even more graciously, Stewart conceded Monty's 25-foot putt to lose the match when Monty pouted on 18 until he gave it to him. Monty wants it worse than anybody.

POINT: Euros. (Euros lead, 8-7.)

Is American captain Corey Pavin too nice to win?

Maybe.

Exhibit A: Pavin wants to play all 12 of his players in the first two days. "These guys have been thinking about the Ryder Cup for two years," he says. "To leave them on the bench for two days seems wrong."

Exhibit B: In case of a tie, 14-14, Pavin thinks it's unfair that the defending team gets to keep the cup. "I'd be happy to let one team have it for a year and the other team have it for a year. You know, share."

The man's a softie

POINT: Euros. (Euros lead, 9-7.)

Can scary-good Dustin Johnson be cured of being a meathead?

Yes, which is the beauty of the Ryder Cup. DJ is like Katy Perry -- everybody's drooling to hook up with him. Pairing Johnson with a graybeard such as Mickelson or Woods or Steve Stricker would be perfect, somebody who could say things like:

  • • "Wait, Dustin, what do you say we just check and see if this is a bunker first." And …
  • • "Hold on, Dustin, maybe we shouldn't try to drive the sidewalk-thin par-4." And …
  • • "You know what, Dustin? Maybe the left-handed flop off the cart path isn't the ideal shot here."

At least it should work until the singles.

POINT: USA. (Euros lead, 9-8.)

Will Corey Pavin do for Jim Furyk what the Chicago Bulls did for Dennis Rodman and assign somebody to wake him up daily?

No. But $11.35 million will buy a lot of cell phone batteries.

POINT: USA. (Tied, 9-9.)

Can our nobody beat their nobody?

Ours is Jeff Overton, easily the best tour pro still living in Bloomington, Ind. Theirs is a Swede, Peter Hanson, one of thousands of interchangeable pros living in the Orlando, Fla., metroplex. Overton is better than people think. He's an off-the-wall free spirit. He's carefree and won't let the pressure get to him. Still, their No. 12 always suddenly becomes bulletproof, winning all kinds of points and usually sinking the clinching putt. Doesn't matter who it is -- Peter Baker, David Gilford or Philip Walton. They are all Walter Mittys who, for one week of their lives, become Walter Hagens.

POINT: Euros. (Euros lead, 10-9.)

Is Lee Westwood playing possum?

Probably. Westwood has had a calf injury forever. Really? A calf injury has kept him out? Does anybody remember Tiger Woods playing with two fractures in his leg? Westwood's manager said he was "planning to walk 18" to see how it feels. "We're not sure if he can go 36 twice," Pavin says. "Not that it matters."

Oh, it matters. Westwood is one of the top five players in the world. The bet here is that Westwood will sit out a match the day the Queen skinny-dips in the Thames.

POINT AND A HALF: Euros. (Euros lead, 11.5-9.)

Can our Ned Flanders beat their Homer Simpson?

Ian Poulter -- with his pants and his 10-minutes-to-primp hair (I've stood next to him while he does it) and his misspelled tweets and his the-American-dominance-is-over quotes -- is the one guy most American players would like to stomp into a glob of hair gel. Steve Stricker, who is plain and decent and about as slick as a bowl of corn flakes, is just the guy to do it. Two very good sticks, but Stricker has the better game.

POINT: USA. (Euros lead, 11.5-10.)

Can our fluke major winner beat their fluke major winner?

Theirs, Graeme McDowell, stood up to: The World Wants Phil Mickelson to Win His First Open. Ours, Stewart Cink, stood up to: The World REALLY Wants 59-Year-Old Tom Watson to Win the British. "There was, what, 50 million people who wanted Tom to win and five or six who wanted Stewart?" says Tom Lehman, one of Pavin's assistants. "If he can overcome that, he can handle anything."

POINT: USA. (Euros lead, 11.5-11.)

Can our bombers intimidate their tacticians?

Paul Azinger says the USA has the longest-hitting Ryder Cup team in history. In match play, it's better to hit first into the green with your approach shot. When your opponent goes first and hits it in close, your swing thought is, "How stupid am I going to look if I miss this green with less club in my hand?" Then again, if you are Bubba Watson (309.8 driving average) and you're teamed with Dustin Johnson (308.5), and they're hitting 5-woods while you're hitting 9-irons, it tends not to matter.

POINT AND A HALF: USA. (USA leads, 12.5-11.5.)

Are the European team's Molinari brothers anything?

Yes, and they could make the difference. Eduardo is 15th in the world, wild off the tee and putts like he's making them into kiddie wading pools. Frank is 33rd in the world and much more linguine with red sauce, fairways and greens. They won the World Cup together in 2009, so they're going to be a pairing that might deplete the USA's stockpile of headache relief remedies. Plus, they'll speak Italian to each other and drive Americans crazy.

TWO POINTS (FOR TWO BROTHERS): Euros. (Euros lead, 13.5-12.5.)

Nick Faldo is no longer the European captain. Help or hurt?

The Joseph Hazelwood of Ryder Cup captains, Faldo was a disorganized mess in his losing 2008 captaincy in Kentucky and has been getting torched in the European media about it all this week. Ian Poulter said the team lacked passion. Lee Westwood is still mad Faldo told him on the 10th tee Friday afternoon that he wouldn't be playing Saturday morning. Faldo even messed up his players' names in his opening ceremony speech. Compared to Faldo, Monty will come off like Winston Churchill.

POINT: Euros. (Euros clinch, 14.5-12.5.)

Who will have the ugliest uniforms?

Us. It's tradition.

POINT: Euros. (Euros win the Cup, 15.5-12.5.)

Still, you should tune in just to make sure.


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