Point/Counterpoint: Does the U.S. have a chance?

Originally Published: September 16, 2004
ESPN.com

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- Trailing 11-5 in the Ryder Cup is like being down by five touchdowns in the Super Bowl entering the fourth quarter.

Except you're not pulling your starters and neither are they.

Europe needs to win just three of 12 matches to retain the Cup on Sunday, but the Americans have designs on mounting a comeback.

Can it be done? Some say yes, some say no. OK, almost everyone says no. But stranger things have happened before.

Can the United States still win on Sunday?
YES

Crazy things happen in sports. The Miracle on Ice. Doug Flutie's Hail Mary. Kirk Gibson's home run.

Even a little team called the United States of America pulled off a miraculous comeback on the final day of the 1999 Ryder Cup at The Country Club. That team trailed by five points entering Sunday. This year's version, it can be argued, is even better. They have more solid players, a better motivator in Hal Sutton and a bunch of players who have seen miracles before.

Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk were all members of that '99 team (along with Sutton). They all won their singles matches before Justin Leonard drained The Putt Heard 'Round the World, so they know what it takes to get things done against all odds.

Coincidentally enough, the first four players Sutton is putting out there on Sunday? You got it -- Woods, Mickelson, Love and Furyk. Their opponents (Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke and David Howell) are no slouches, but if Captain Hal can inject memories of Brookline into these guys, the overall score could be 11-9 by late-afternoon.

And who's to say the Americans won't roll from there. The Oakland Hills crowd has been a volcano waiting to erupt. If those first four players get hot early, the course will be rowdy with anticipation. After those guys, a fresh Kenny Perry, who didn't play on Saturday, faces a worn and weary Lee Westwood. Advantage: U.S. Then David Toms, fresh off a win, faces Colin Montgomerie, who looked like a beaten man after his Four-ball match. Advantage: U.S. Next up? Chad Campbell hasn't hit a good shot in two days. He's due against Luke Donald. Advantage: U.S. After that, Chris DiMarco and his arsenal of fist-pumps will have Miguel Angel Jimenez rattled. Advantage: U.S.

Sure, you say, even if all that happens, it's still only tied, 13-13. Like a 4 a.m. infomercial, we can make promises. But wait! There's more!

Fred Funk won't miss a fairway against ice-cold Thomas Levet. Advantage: U.S. Now that he's got Tiger's magic touch, Chris Riley will cruise past Ian Poulter. Advantage: U.S.

In case you're not keeping track, it's now 15-13 and the Americans are throwing one heck of a celebration party. Just in case one or two guys lose, Jay Haas will ride all of the momentum throughout his match with Padraig Harrington. Advantage: U.S. And last but not least, Stewart Cink will clean house against Paul McGinley.

After all, McGinley had his day in the sun in '02. On Sunday, it's the Americans turn.

-- Jason Sobel
ESPN.com

NO

Call the U.S. team a cab. It's time to go home.

The Americans have about as much of a chance of winning the Ryder Cup on Sunday at Oakland Hills Country Club as John Kerry does of carrying Texas in the Presidential election. Not only is the 11-5 deficit too large to overcome but also not enough Americans have shown enough game this week to give any indication that a miracle comeback such as the one staged at The Country Club in 1999 when the United States rallied from a 10-6 deficit.

Quite simply the best of the Europeans (Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia) have outplayed the best of the Americans (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk). The European quartet has all won three or more points. No American has more than 1 points. Moreover, the bottom tier guys from across the pond -- especially Luke Donald, Paul Casey and David Howell -- have contributed crucial points.

The Europeans let one get away at The Country Club. They won't make that mistake again.

Golf aside, the mere mathematics of it all is too much to ignore. For the U.S. to prevent Europe from taking the Cup back across the Atlantic it would need to rack up 9 points in singles play.

That means Europe, which holds the Ryder Cup, needs to win just three matches to claim the Cup for the seventh time in the past 10 competitions since a 14-14 tie gives the trophy to the defending champion. And this American team is just not as deep as the squad that rallied from way back at The Country Club. Four Americans -- Chad Campbell, Fred Funk, Kenny Perry and Furyk -- have yet to win a single point this year. Except for Thomas Levet and Ian Poulter, every European has contributed to his team's point total.

And there is one other big difference from 1999. Back then, European captain Mark James held out his three Ryder Cup rookies until the singles matches. This time, captain Bernhard Langer has let all his players get their feet wet.

The Europeans have played better and they have been captained better. On Sunday they will finish off a near-perfect performance.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World

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