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Euro team will always battle

9/9/2004

So here's a switch: In most of the recent Ryder Cup years -- six of the
last nine competitions -- the United States appeared to have the stronger
team, yet Europe won.

Not so this year.

The U.S. squad is, at best, no
more than equal to the team from the other side of the Atlantic. Always,
it seems, there was a no-name European (at least a no-name to American
fans) who stepped up to win a key point (see Paul McGinley's Cup-winning
putt in 2002). This year at Oakland Hills both teams will be packed with
players sporting little Ryder Cup experience.

The opportunities for an
unlikely hero to emerge in Detroit this September are more than likely.

With the finalization of the European team Sunday, both sides will enter
the competition with five players who have no Ryder Cup experience. In
fact, the top-four Americans -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love
III and Jim Furyk -- account for 15 of the 19 total Ryder Cups on the
12-man team. Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Chris DiMarco, Fred Funk and
Chris Riley will be making their debut in the high-stress competition.
David Toms will be playing for just the second time and Hal Sutton's
captain's picks, Jay Haas and Stewart Cink, have played in two and one
Cup respectively.

On the other side of the ocean, Colin Montgomerie, who along with Luke
Donald was the wildcard selection for captain Bernhard Langer, accounts
for six of the 18 total Cup appearances by the Europeans. Ian Poulter,
Paul Casey, David Howell, Thomas Levet and Donald are Ryder Cup rookies,
Miguel Angel Jimenez and McGinley have played once, Padraig Harrington
and Sergio Garcia twice and Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood three times.

Even more interesting is the fact that each team has only two players
with winning Ryder Cup records. Garcia has six wins, three losses and
one halve and Montgomerie is 16-7-5 and has never lost in singles play.

For the Americans, Mickelson is 8-5-3 and Toms is 3-1-1. Two of the
veteran Americans -- Woods and Furyk -- bring in records of 5-8-2 and
3-6-2, respectively. The other experienced American, Love, is a more
respectable 8-9-4. There are no major disappointments among the
Europeans, although Clarke (4-6-2) and Westwood (7-8-0) have records
that could be better. Harrington is a respectable 3-3-1.

If major championships matter as a measuring stick then the Americans
have the clear advantage. Five members of the U.S. team have won majors
-- Woods, Mickelson, Love, Furyk and Toms, with Woods being the only
multiple major winner -- while no one on the European side has brought
home a major title.

What the Europeans do bring to the competition is grit. While it might
be a slight overstatement to say that winning the Ryder Cup means more
to the Europeans than it does to the Americans, it would not be far off
the mark.

The 13th man the Europeans bring into the competition every
two years is a healthy chip on their collective shoulders that they do
not get as much respect from the American fans and media as they should.
That chip always translates into points. The history of the European
team is cluttered with important points won by Paul Way (1985), Howard
Clark (1987), Philip Walton and David Gilford (1995) and McGinley last
year.

The European team brings in a record of 37-30-13, but that is deceiving
because of Montgomerie. Without him, their record is 21-23-8. The U.S.
side has a collective mark of 31-35-13.

If recent history has proven
anything -- Europe has won five of the last nine competitions and kept
the Cup another time with a tie -- it is that the European team needs to
build up a big lead going into singles play. The top four Americans --
Woods, Mickelson, Love and Furyk -- have a combined record of 9-3-3 in
singles play. But that foursome has a combined record of 7-11-2 in
better-ball play and 7-10-4 in alternate shot.

The Big Four among the
Europeans -- Montgomerie, Clarke, Westwood and Garcia -- are a combined
13-10-4 in better-ball matches, 16-7-1 in alternate shot and 4-7-3 in
singles. But all four of those singles victories and two of the halves
are by Montgomerie. Garcia, Clarke and Westwood are a combined 0-7-1 in
singles.

The fun thing about match play and the compelling thing about the Ryder
Cup is that the players do not have to perform at a high level to
produce a top-notch competition. Match play is literally a format in
which each hole produces a new competition. And while 72 holes of stroke
play provides the time for the cream to rise to the top, the compressed
action of match play creates more opportunities for upsets and the added
demands of playing for a team -- and possibly letting down others beside
yourself -- reveals more about the character of the players involved.

There is, quite simply, no event in golf like the Ryder Cup. It has a
history (dating back to 1927) lacking in the President's Cup or the Solheim
Cup and it has all those years when the Americans beat up on the team
from Great Britain and Ireland.

That domination changed when all of
Europe was added to the team in 1979, and part of the motivation the
Europeans bring into the competition each time is the memory of those
humiliations in which Britain won only once from 1935 through 1983.

There is a lot of talk in the United States about whether the Players
Championship is the fifth major. In Europe it's clear what the fifth
major is - it's the Ryder Cup.

The side Sutton sends out to compete at
Oakland Hills better be darn sure of one thing: The Europeans will come
prepared to play. They always do. It's all about that healthy chip on
their shoulders.

Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine.

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