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Funny thing, this match play

9/25/2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- Tiger Woods' winning percentage in the Ryder Cup is lower than that of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the American League East.

David Duval lost more matches than he won in his first Ryder Cup three years ago, when he was one of the top three players in the world. Paul Azinger isn't break-even in his 13 career matches. Jim Furyk's under .500. So is Davis Love III.

Meanwhile, Phil Mickelson -- whose decision-making has been questioned in stroke-play majors -- has been dominant, winning six and halving two of his 11 career matches. He's 3-0 in singles. Scott Hoch is unbeaten in three career starts.

Funny thing, this match play. Predicting it isn't for the faint of heart.

"This is not a stoke play event," Hal Sutton said. "This is a match play event, and a lot of good things can happen in that type of situation."

Good things? Three years ago, Jesper Parnevik and Sergio Garcia teamed up and beat, in three consecutive matches, Woods-Tom Lehman, Furyk-Mickelson and Justin Leonard-Payne Stewart. The Europeans led 10-6 heading into singles, thanks in large part to that.

Mickelson isn't the only one who's thrived under Ryder Cup pressure. Colin Montgomerie, who's never won a major title in stroke play, is 12-7-4 in Ryder Cup matches -- and he's never lost in singles. Bernhard Langer, who has two Masters titles, is 18-15-5 in nine previous Ryder Cup appearances.

And bad things. Woods is 3-6-1 in 10 Ryder Cup matches, and was 2-3 three years ago at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Ironically, Woods made a career out of dominating match play as an amateur, winning three straight U.S. Amateur titles.

"(My record) isn't as good as it should be," Woods said. "I wish it was better. That means I would have contributed more points to my team. But I haven't done that."

The members of this year's European team have fared much better than their American counterparts in Ryder Cups past. Their combined record in Ryder Cup play is 45-32-15, while the American players -- while better on paper -- are just 36-38-5.

"The way a person has played this year, I don't think, will have as agreat a bearing as we are sometimes led to believe," Mickelson said. "At t his level of play, a player can turn it around in a matter of a day or a matter of an hour or minutes. Somtimes you just need a little thought to trigger great ball-striking and it turns your confidence around overnight. At this level, the least of our concerns is how all of our players are going to play."

Hal Sutton is 6-4-4 in three Ryder Cups. He, Mickelson and Hoch are the only Americans above break-even for their Ryder Cup careers.

"(Mickelson) makes a lot of birdies," Strange said. "In 18 holes of match play, you don't have time to dilly-dally out there. You have to go out there and make birdies. And he does that."

Mickelson said he loves the competition, the history, the unique nature of match play, especially in the Ryder Cup setting.

This is not a stoke play event. This is a match play event, and a lot of good things can happen in that type of situation. "

-- Hal Sutton

"I think it's just the intensity between two competitors," Mickelson said, "as opposed to the vagueness of playing the golf course and trying to shoot a score."

"You're not just born for (match play)," Woods said. "I think there's a certain attitude you've got to have in match play. You have to be able to step up there and answer whatever your opponent does. If he hits one in stiff, you have to step up and hit inside of him. If he makes a putt, you have to bury it on top of him. If you're outside of him, you have to make that putt first."

What does it mean this year? There are seven rookies -- three on the American side (Stewart Cink, David Toms and Scott Verplank) and four Europeans (Niclas Fasth, Pierre Fulke, Paul McGinley and Phillip Price). None has much match play experience.

If the practice-round pairings are any indication, the Americans are likely to match Woods with Mark Calcavecchia (who's never lost an alternate-shot match in four tries) and Toms with Mickelson. Others who may play together: Duval-Love, Azinger-Cink, Hoch-Furyk and Sutton-Verplank.

But Wednesday, Woods played with Azinger and Calcavecchia with Hoch.

"Does that really get you thinking now?", Strange asked the media.

The Europeans had Garcia playing with Langer, though it would figure he'd team with Parnevik again. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke played in all four team matches three years ago, but Westwood's struggles may end that partnership this year. Thomas Bjorn and Fasth, a Dane and a Swede, could see action together. Montgomerie and could see time with fellow Englishman McGinley, or even with Westwood.

After that, captain Sam Torrance isn't saying -- and he's not tipping his hand in practice.

"I had it all written out (for) last year's Ryder Cup," Torrance said of his pairings. "And I hid it away somewhere. I'm very good at hiding things and I spent three days looking for it and I couldn't find it. I have no idea what my pairings were for the last one. But I'm pretty sure about this one."

If he is so sure, he's probably the only one.