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Europe, sparked by Clarke, cruises to Ryder Cup

9/28/2006 - Golf

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Even after the skies cleared over
Ireland, it kept right on pouring. First came the tears of Darren Clarke, the inspiration of this Ryder Cup, and then a shower of
champagne as the Europeans celebrated another romp.

Ian Woosnam popped the cork off the first bottle, dousing his
team on the 18th green and later drinking it so quickly that it
shot up his nose. Clarke toasted the delirious Irish crowd by
guzzling a pint of Guinness from a balcony and raising the empty
glass like a trophy.

Even with Tiger Woods getting to pick his partner and finishing
with a winning record for the first time in the Ryder Cup, it still
didn't change the outcome from two years ago.

Europe 18½, United States 9½.

There's no doubt who owns the Ryder Cup -- and not just the shiny
gold trophy.

"I don't know in the history of the Ryder Cup any European team
that has played better than you guys," U.S. captain Tom Lehman
told them at the closing ceremony Sunday after his American team
endured its worst beating ever in the 12 singles matches.

The Europeans wanted to win this one for Clarke and the memory
of his wife, Heather, who died of breast cancer six weeks ago to
the day. They wanted to win for Woosnam, their pint-sized captain
who made all the right moves once the tournament started.

Mostly -- as always -- they wanted to win for each other.

"That's what we do on this team," said Colin Montgomerie, who
tied a Ryder Cup record with his sixth singles victory. "We play
for each other. We're all just thrilled. And yes, we're going to
have a big party."

Luke Donald holed a 10-foot par putt on the 16th hole for
Europe's 14th point, all it needed to keep the trophy. Moments
later, Henrik Stenson won his match for an outright victory, the
first European team to win three in a row.

"This is the pinnacle of my life," said Woosnam, a former
Masters champion and once No. 1 in the world.

The celebration was well under way when Clarke won his match
against Zach Johnson, and soon the tears flowed as Clarke cried on
the shoulder of caddie Billy Foster, then in the arms of Woosnam,
sobbing mixed with songs and cheers.

He didn't know if he would play -- if he could play -- in the
Ryder Cup so soon after his wife died and left behind two young
sons. But he accepted a captain's pick from Woosnam and was
determined as ever to bring his best game.

Clarke won all three matches he played, carried along by some of
the loudest cheers ever heard at this event.

"It was like an 80,000-seat stadium around one tee box,"
Johnson said of the start of their match. "Frankly, it was like
that on every tee box for him. Well deserved, too."

Clarke and Woosnam embraced for the longest time, and then
Woosnam thrust his arm in the air.

"It's done a lot for me for people to show me how much they
care," Clarke said. "And it's done a lot to show how much they
cared about Heather, and that means a lot to me. It's been a
difficult week. From the minute I got here, I was determined to get
myself ready, and I was. I played the way Woosie wanted me to."

Clarke had help from every one of his teammates.

Montgomerie set the tone by beating David Toms in the opening
match, holing a 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to improve his
singles record to 6-0-2. Paul Casey followed by beating Jim Furyk,
the American's first loss in Ryder Cup singles.

The Europeans tied a Ryder Cup record by winning 8½ points from
the 12 singles matches -- the total the Americans needed to pull off
another comeback like they did in 1999 -- and they became the first
team to win all five sessions since that format was adopted in
1979.

The Americans didn't stand a chance.

They tried to rally behind the memory of Brookline, when they
trailed 10-6 and staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

But that was Boston. This was Ireland.

That U.S. team was so strong that the only rookie was David Duval,
who was No. 2 in the world. This team had four unheralded rookies
and couldn't even rely on its stars. Of the top six players who
qualified for the team, four didn't win a match all week. The
biggest flop was Masters champion Phil Mickelson, who went 0-4-1
and has won only one match in his last two Ryder Cups.

The biggest difference was the color on the scoreboards.

The Americans needed them to be awash in red, hopeful that would
inspire the back end of the lineup. Just like the first two days,
however, European blue was in vogue.

Europe led in eight of the 12 matches on the front nine, and
American spirits sagged.

The only signs of life for the U.S. came from Stewart Cink, who
birdied four of his first five holes to hand Sergio Garcia his only
loss at The K Club and end his unbeaten streak at nine matches; and
from Woods, who beat Robert Karlsson to finish this Ryder Cup at
3-2-0.

Woods only looked at the U.S. record since he came along. The
world's No. 1 player has won 12 majors and 53 times on the PGA
Tour, but he has hoisted the Ryder Cup only once.

"What am I, 1-4 in Ryder Cups? It doesn't sit well," he said.
"Nor should it."

The blowout might have been even greater if not for a gesture of
sportsmanship from Paul McGinley. His match was all square with
J.J. Henry when the Irishman blasted out of the bunker for a
conceded birdie. Henry still had 25 feet for birdie, but after a
streaker ran onto the green, McGinley conceded the long birdie.

Otherwise, Europe would have been the first team to reach 19
points since this format began in 1979.

"It was a remarkable thing he did," Johnson said. "I think it
shows really what the spirit of this competition is all about."

Competition? That's debatable.

Europe now has captured the Ryder Cup five of the last six
times, and eight of the last 11. The Americans now lead 24-10-2 in
the overall series, but they no longer have to stump to be called
the underdogs.

"It just shows the potential of European golf," Woosnam said.
"I think we've got the strength and depth for a long time to come,
and I think the future of the Ryder Cup is going to look great for
Europe."

The American highlights were limited. Scott Verplank made a
hole-in-one on the 14th hole while beating Padraig Harrington,
giving him a 2-0 record this week but raising questions why Lehman
made him a captain's pick and then used him only twice all week.

The other one was comical.

Woods hit 9-iron to the front edge of the seventh green, then
handed the club to caddie Steve Williams. The caddie leaned over to
dip his towel in the River Liffey, slipped on a rock and dropped
the 9-iron into the murky water.

"It was either going to be him or the 9-iron," Woods said.
"So he chose the 9-iron."

At that point, Woods could only laugh. He went the next seven
holes with only 13 clubs, but it didn't matter.

No way Europe was going to lose its grip on the trophy.