Commentary

Ryder Cup smorgasbord

Originally Published: October 2, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski and Bob Harig | ESPN.com

NEWPORT, Wales -- In honor of Team USA's cardigan color choices, I've dyed what hair I have left in lavender.

OK, Bob (or "Bobby," as Tiger Woods called you earlier this week in a press conference), the USA is eight points from retaining the Ryder Cup. Lots and lots of Sunday golf -- and maybe Monday golf, depending on the weather -- is left to play.

We've still got the four four-ball matches and the two foursome matches to be completed (all of which the USA is losing, by the way), followed by the 12 singles matches. If I were picking my Team USA MVP right now, I'd pick Stewart Cink, with Jeff Overton as an honorable mention. Here's why:

Cink hasn't played all that well this year, gets in as a captain's pick and responds by sinking arguably the putt of the Ryder Cup so far -- a 30-foot birdie in the final Session 2 foursomes match that ultimately gave the USA its 6-4 lead as of Saturday night. He's been sinking birdie putts since he got off the charter flight in Cardiff.

I also love the guy's body language. He exudes positivity, and it helped steady Cup rookie Matt Kuchar. Plus, I'm a big fan of hair-challenged golfers.

Overton, the least-known rookie when the competition began, has outplayed the vets such as Phil Mickelson -- which, come to think of it, isn't so hard to do these days. And you've got to admire a guy with the guts to wear a bucket hat.

Bob Harig: Cink stalked that birdie putt like the one that ultimately broke Tom Watson's heart last year at the British Open, and his experience is paying off. This, amazingly, is his fifth Ryder Cup, and he seems to have a calmness about him that has rubbed off on Kuchar.

There has been no bigger putt in this Ryder Cup than the one he holed at the 17th. It basically destroyed another hair-challenged player -- or actually a guy who has challenges with his hair -- in Rory McIlroy.

As an aside, I count seven U.S. players who are hair-challenged, and two others who have major challenges with their hair. For what it's worth.

[+] EnlargeStewart Cink
AP PhotoStewart Cink's putt on the 17th hole Saturday proved one of the highlights of the week for Team USA.

Gene Wojciechowski: Yes, we call those the real majors.

You're Mr. Golf. Explain to me why USA captain Corey Pavin sent Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker out in the late Saturday afternoon foursome match instead of a four-ball (best-ball) match. Woods and Stricker were getting waxed by Luke Donald and Lee Westwood. Is there a mercy rule in Ryder Cup competition?

Stricker played like he hit the wall during Session 3 and Woods was all over the place, including the water. He keeps tinkering with his swing. The Ryder Cup isn't where you try to fix things, is it?

Bob Harig: No, and given the change in format, Pavin had the perfect opportunity to hold Woods out of alternate shot and put him and Stricker in best-ball. Aside from the rain-gear fiasco, it is Pavin's biggest gaffe of the Ryder Cup.

You asked the question, but it can't be explained, no matter what spin Pavin puts on it. Yes, the captain's hands are tied to a degree with the on-the-fly format, but he could have arranged it so that Woods played with Stricker in best-ball, and for some reason he chose not to do it. Perhaps putting Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar in alternate shot would have been the better move.

Gene Wojciechowski: You're right. Until then, Stricker has been exactly what we thought he would be: solid as one of the TV towers here. He didn't carry Woods (a captain's pick for the first time in his Cup career) during their earlier two wins, but he was the perfect safety net for Tiger as the world's No. 1 player scuffled at times.

Bob Harig: They had run their team winning streak to six straight going back to last year's Presidents Cup, and Pavin was smart to keep their partnership intact. He had no choice but to play them both with the rain-forced format change, and maybe they'd have struggled anyway in best-ball. But it no doubt gives all of the European team a huge boost to see Tiger 5 down. They did birdie the ninth hole to get it back to 4 down, but that deficit is still stunning.

Gene Wojciechowski: I hate to go to Negative Street here, but it doesn't take very long to pick the USA's biggest disappointment. For me it's Mickelson.

Woods has struggled at times, but at least he's kept it together when it counts. But Lefty is 0-2-0 and flopped with his buddy Dustin Johnson. That explains why Pavin switched Mickelson to partner with Rickie Fowler for the Session 3 four-ball. Mickelson is 2-10-3 in his past 15 matches -- awful.

Bob Harig: And he's on his way to being the most awful in American Ryder Cup history. His two defeats here have given him 16 in his career, tying for the most losses with Raymond Floyd. He and Fowler are 2 down through four holes of their best-ball match with Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer, and Lefty hasn't done anything so far.

Gene Wojciechowski: And I thought Dustin Johnson would play loose and easy, but it didn't happen during the first two sessions. And it wasn't happening during his late Saturday four-ball match with partner Jim Furyk.

Bob Harig: This is where the format change has hurt the Americans. Given his struggles, Johnson would have been a candidate to sit out had the old system been in place. But you can't hide him now.

Gene Wojciechowski: If I'm an American player, I'm not sure I want to see Westwood or Donald on my draw sheet. For someone who didn't play competitive golf for what, seven weeks, Westwood is money. And does Donald ever hit a poor iron shot?

Bob Harig: Westwood truly is amazing. So much for competitive rust. He has probably been the best player in the world this year -- he's been second in two major championships -- and might have moved past Woods to No. 1 were it not for the injury to his calf.

It appears to be just a matter of time now. When it comes to singles, you almost hope it is one of the American rookies going up against him, someone who has nothing to lose and who would give the U.S. a big boost with an upset or even a tie.

As for Donald, he is making Colin Montgomerie look good. There was some controversy in picking him. Maybe not as much as the Padraig Harrington pick, but Donald is a classic underachiever when it comes to winning, yet he helped with a huge comeback against Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton. Donald, along with Poulter, is destroying Woods and Stricker in their foursomes match.

Gene Wojciechowski: I'm not sure what to make of Rory McIlroy. He's going to be the next great player -- if he isn't already -- but he missed a crucial putt late Saturday afternoon in the Kuchar-Cink match and then skanked a short wedge into the bunker on No. 18 in the same match. Pressure.

Bob Harig: The biggest knock on McIlroy is putting, especially short putting. It seems to be a chronic issue with many of the game's young players who appear more intent on strengthening the long game.

For all of his talent and ability, McIlroy has a lone victory in Europe, a lone victory on the PGA Tour. And he has struggled all week -- including the practice rounds -- with his short putting.

Gene Wojciechowski: Biggest knucklehead moves so far? In no particular order:

Fowler dropping the wrong ball in play (it cost him and Jim Furyk the hole in a match that was halved Saturday) … USA's lavender sweaters … USA's rain suits that didn't work … Lefty and DJ pairing.

Bob Harig: I'll add the Woods-Stricker foursomes decision Saturday afternoon. … And sitting Jim Furyk in the first session. How do you leave out the guy who is likely to be the PGA Tour's player of the year? … And Pavin's news conference Saturday night. He was incoherent.

Gene Wojciechowski: Favorite moment?

The killer Cink putt that helped halve the match. … European vice captain Thomas Bjorn trying to kiss The Mechanic -- Miguel Angel Jimenez -- after Jimenez sank a long putt in his late Saturday four-ball match. (Jimenez did a late hand block over his lips) … the European fans singing their clever chants on the first tee box … the guys dressed like Uncle Sam … European captain Colin Montgomerie talking about almost anything.

Bob Harig: The beginning of the matches at the first hole is No. 1 for me. Whoever came up with the idea to build an amphitheater on that tee box was a genius, because those 2,000 singing and chanting lunatics add the spice to the event that makes it so unique … And you gotta love all those Hoosiers, as if anybody in Wales knows what a Hoosier is.

Gene Wojciechowski: What'd you make of the format change? I was fine with the changes, mostly because they didn't have much of a choice. But I do think it's going to end up helping the Europeans more than the Americans.

Bob Harig: I get that they wanted to preserve eight foursomes, eight four-balls and 12 singles. And I certainly get that they wanted to finish this thing on Sunday, if at all possible.

But in what sporting event do you change the format in the middle of the event? If this is such a big deal, why not maintain the format and simply play it out as the Ryder Cup has been played for more than 30 years?

The format change deprived us of some of the interesting decisions that face the captains, and completely took away the tough calls on whether or not to sit players.

It is nobody's fault that bad weather came. To me, it was an overreaction.

Gene Wojciechowski: Agreed.

Nothing personal, but is Pavin ever going to say ANYTHING during this Ryder Cup? He barely answers questions. I don't want to say he's defensive, but enough already with the "everybody is doing their best" responses. It's not against the law to say something interesting or give a fully honest answer.

And please, don't insult everyone by pretending Woods and Stricker aren't cooked in the foursome match against Westwood and Donald. I suppose a miracle comeback is possible, but I don't think it's going to be against those two Europeans.

Bob Harig: Unfortunately, Pavin has never said much of anything, ever. It was one of the reasons there was indifference when he was named the captain nearly two years ago. Everyone knew Paul Azinger would be a tough act to follow, and Pavin proves that every day.

Gene Wojciechowski: I know the USA has some issues going into Sunday morning's play. But I figure if they can go into singles 8-8 or even down 7-9, the Americans can figure out a way to get to 14 points.

Your Sunday prediction?

Bob Harig: I have picked the Americans all along, despite their supposed inferiority to the Europeans. So I will stick with them now. But they need to come back in several of those matches that are on the course as of Saturday night.

Nobody ever comes back from 10-6 going into the Sunday singles. Well, except the 1999 U.S. team at Brookline.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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Bob Harig | email

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