Euros cruise to largest-ever margin
They came to Oakland Hills as underdogs. They celebrated as underdogs.
By now, everyone should know better.
Europe again proved to be the best in the Ryder Cup with its greatest performance Sunday, handing the Americans their worst loss in the 77-year history of the matches.
"I don't think we'll be the favorite next time," Phil Mickelson said. "No matter what the world rankings say, I think we'll be the underdog. And hopefully, we'll play like they have."
The final stroke of this Ryder Cup rout was fitting. Padraig Harrington rammed in a 25-foot par putt on the 18th hole for a point that counted only in the record books.
Europe 18½, United States 9½.
The score was astounding. The winner was familiar.
Europe has won the Ryder Cup four of the last five times, and seven of 10.
"These guys are grand," U.S. captain Hal Sutton said. "If you know anything about golf, and you watch these guys play this week, you would know that they are very good players."
And they sure know how to party.
"Bernhard, Bernhard, there's only one Bernhard Langer," the fans sang to the European captain.
"All I heard all week was 'USA, USA, USA.' I wanted to hear some of this," Langer said. "You work 12 months for this. I'm going to celebrate all night."
For the Americans, the hangover will last two years.
"I've been on the wrong end of this celebration the last two times," David Toms said. "I don't know what it is, but we've got to find the right formula."
The Europeans are not only winning, they are winning big.
"Obviously, our results would suggest that," Clarke said. "We come here with a big heart, full of hopes, full of expectations."
The United States still leads the series 24-9-2, but Europe is closing in. It keeps showing up with a collection of players not many people know in the States until they pose with the 19-inch gold trophy.
"I think we were slight underdogs at the start of the week. As that week progressed, no, we weren't," Montgomerie said. "We had strength at the top, strength in the middle and strength at the end. That's the first time I can say that. We had strength everywhere."
The Americans have more majors, higher world rankings, greater star power.
But when it comes to the Ryder Cup, it's no contest.
"They have just gotten the job done," Tiger Woods said. "I don't know why. If I knew the reason, obviously we would be doing something similar, if not a little bit better than that."
The Europeans won for only the third time on U.S. soil, and they made sure there was no rally like Brookline five years ago when the Americans stormed back from a 10-6 deficit by putting its best players at the top of the lineup and riding a tidal wave of momentum.
Woods finally did his part, the only player not to lose a hole in an easy victory over Paul Casey. The Americans had early leads in the first five matches as cheers of "USA! USA!" rang out across the course, the crowd trying to urge them to pull off another improbable comeback.
But just as it had gone all week, the Americans simply couldn't keep it up.
Garcia made three straight birdies to quickly turn the tide against Mickelson, then won the match when Lefty tried a peculiar shot at a crucial moment -- a low punch that came up short and rolled into the water on the 16th.
"I needed to make a birdie," Mickelson said. "I felt like I needed to take a little bit of a risk there trying to get it close."
Clarke was two holes behind with three to play when he made an 8-foot birdie on the 16th, chipped in from behind the green on the 17th to square the match and wound up halving his match with Love after both missed par putts.
Westwood also rallied from an early two-hole deficit, winning the 15th with a par to go 1 up, and then holing his cup-clinching putt to seal the victory.
"I had a fair idea the way everyone was biting their nails," Westwood said when asked whether he knew his putt was for the Ryder Cup.
This was no nail-biter. It was a blowout from the start.
Europe led 11-5 going into the 12 singles matches and needed only three points to retain the cup. When the victory was theirs, the players swarmed Langer and fans began singing "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole!" Champagne filled the air over the 18th green, and the captain took a sweet sip as his teammates roared.
Fred Funk and Perry, in their first Ryder Cup, were the only players who failed to win a point. Mickelson went 1-3, while Woods had another losing record at 2-3.
Garcia and Westwood were the European stars, each going 4-0-1. And when Thomas Levet beat Funk for his first point of the week, he assured every European player contributed something to this record victory.
It was a disastrous week for Sutton, whose tough talk didn't do the Americans much good on the course.
He said he had a Woods-Mickelson pairing in mind since being appointed captain two years ago because, "History needed it. ... The fans needed it," even though it sure looked as if Woods didn't want it: They lost twice on Friday when Europe took a five-point lead.
"We just never got any charisma going that we needed," he said.
Sutton let Chris Riley skip the Saturday afternoon match, even though Riley was unbeaten in two matches.
Asked if he would do anything differently, Sutton held his ground.
"That will be debated until the day I die," he said. "They've debated past and future captains, and I knew it was part of the job. I'm not going to second-guess myself."
But that's what will happen until the Ryder Cup is played at The K Club in Ireland in 2006.
Europe should be the clear favorite.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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