Time for the nastiness to begin

Updated: September 21, 2006, 2:32 PM ET
By Sarah Turcotte | ESPN The Magazine

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Before Ireland's first Ryder Cup commences, before the first match is won, before the first tee is stuck into the dewy earth, there was this: Three Celtic musical interludes, six national anthems performed by the Irish Army band, a modern dance inspired by the famed Irish Book of Kells and more colorful, elaborate costumes than the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Even Elin Woods and Amy Mickelson were on their feet dancing as the overflowing crowd roared throughout Thursday's opening ceremony.

Now, let's get on with it.

The Ryder Cup is one of the best sporting events in the world, but it's beginning to feel like a souped-up version of the Boy Scouts' jamboree. Throughout the build-up to the competition, we've heard the players and captains comment on how fantastic everyone is (yuck) and how much fun the teams have had playing games and singing songs (blech). One European journalist said it seemed like the Americans had been ordering room service and bonding all week (yawn), while the Europeans played Twister (double-yawn).

It's time for things to get nasty. Like all great competitions, the allure of the Ryder Cup is the rivalry. The winner gets bragging rights for two whole years and fans thrive on this. We want Duke vs. North Carolina. We want the Yankees and the Red Sox. The Raiders and the Broncos. Instead, this week has had the intensity of a church chili cook-off.

For example, Paul Casey -- who caused a major rift after Oakland Hills, saying he and his teammates "properly hated" the Americans when competing against them -- claimed this week that the two teams were composed of "24 friends out there." Europe captain Ian Woosnam and Paul McGinley both praised American skipper Tom Lehman's practice round pairings and his overall leadership. And Chris DiMarco, perhaps the most fiery member of the U.S. team, wanted to emphasize that he and his teammates have "tremendous respect for the Europeans."

Something's gotta give. Of course, the players on either team are friends and have a genuine admiration for one another. But clearly, the buddy system isn't working for a U.S. team that's lost four out of the last five Ryder Cups. Maybe Brett Wetterich will snicker if Jose Maria Olazabal loses one in the water on No. 17 tomorrow. Perhaps Thomas Bjorn, scorned by Woosnam as a captain's selection, will show up in the gallery clad in red, white and blue. Seriously, would anyone mind if Melissa Lehman and Glendryth Woosnam got into a heated battle over who had better taste when selecting outfits for the Ryder Cup wives and girlfriends (semi-affectionately known as the WAGS here)? How about if a Guinness-fueled Irishman yelled at the top of Tiger's backswing and Steve Williams pulled a Ron Artest on the guy?

It's hard to blame the players for being a bit bland by now. Jim Furyk said the middle of Ryder Cup week feels like it lasts 10 days. Players schedule three lengthy practice rounds, sign hundreds of autographs, smile for pictures, hit balls on the range, work on their short game, attend team dinners, are paraded around a formal gala for corporate sponsors and then participate in the opening ceremony. Can you imagine such pageantry at the Stanley Cup or World Series?

The good news? Those fans seated close enough to the stage at the opening ceremony could see the players' goose bumps as their flags were raised. Now it's time to get down to business. There's potential here for Kiawah or Brookline-like drama with Harrington and Montgomerie facing Woods and Furyk in the first match. Come on, no matter how much Tiger likes his opponents, he isn't going to sing Kumbaya with them anytime soon.

The opening ceremony appropriately capped off a four-day love fest. Now, let's hope both teams bring the hate.

Sarah Turcotte is an associate editor at ESPN The Magazine