- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Today’s singles are superfluous.

Europe all but ended the 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills yesterday, answering a meek American rally in the morning four-balls with another decisive victory in the afternoon foursomes to claim a virtually insurmountable 11-5 lead heading into today’s closing singles session.

“There’s 12 guys that know what they have to do,” said U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton, whose team faces the largest deficit heading into the singles since the event switched to a 28-point format and added European continentals in 1979. “The Americans haven’t played well so far. They’ve made putts, and we haven’t. They’ve won close matches, and we haven’t. It’s a tall order, really tall, but we’ve got one more chance this week to play some great golf.”

After Friday’s debacle left the U.S. team in a five-point hole, the Stars and Stripes needed a pair of dominant sessions yesterday to return to contention. It looked like they might get just that midway through the morning four-ball matches. But in the two swing matches that reached the 17th tee with the Americans tied or leading and thinking morning sweep, Sutton’s troops walked away with just a half-point.

Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco couldn’t manage a final-hole par that would have cemented one point, settling for an unsatisfactory halve with Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. And Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell, who were 1-up with two holes to play, lost the 17th and 18th to European rookies Paul Casey and David Howell, gifting the Euros another full point when Campbell missed an 8-footer for par at the last to officially short-circuit the U.S. rally.

“That was a real morale victory for [the Europeans] right there, because they felt defeated all the way around all morning long until the last hole. Momentum switched right there,” said Sutton, who was far more mellow last night with the result basically decided than he was after Friday’s miserable showing. “I pushed them as hard as we could today. And you know, we almost responded this morning, but we lost the energy after that.”

Those stretch-run morning failings seemed to demoralize the Americans and bolster the Europeans, who responded by thrashing them in all but one of the afternoon foursomes to turn today’s singles into a formality.

The Euros need to earn just three points in today’s 12 singles matches to retain the Cup, while the U.S. needs a whopping 9 of 12 points to snatch it back. Despite the astronomical odds against such a rally, the battered Americans put a brave face on today’s mammoth challenge. Each U.S. player pointed to the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, where the U.S. rallied from a 10-6 deficit to complete the largest final-day comeback in the event’s history.

“The lessons of Brookline have been learned,” said Paul McGinley. “We’ve got a very nice lead, but we know this thing is far from over.”

There are, however, some major differences between the two circumstances. Not only does Europe have one more point in its kitty this time around, this band of brothers from across the Atlantic has looked much stronger all week than the squad Mark James brought to Brookline.

For one, Europe won’t send three untested rookies to the singles slaughter as it did in 1999, when James held out Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde and Andrew Coltart until the singles, only to watch as all three were predictably trounced on Sunday. This week, European captain Bernhard Langer has played all of his charges at least once. And yesterday’s most crucial point was delivered by first-timers Casey and Howell.

“I think we all owe David Howell and Paul Casey a beer,” said European stalwart Lee Westwood of the pair’s momentum-shifting debut.

Second, this U.S. team lacks the spark of the Brookline bunch. Not only has its poor play given no indication that a singles onslaught is even possible, also missing are the fiery cogs that drove the Brookline comeback — players like Sutton, Payne Stewart and Tom Lehman.

Finally, the atmosphere at Brookline was far different. The beer-swilling Boston galleries were primed for a nasty display of patriotism and abuse. The subdued galleries in Detroit, meanwhile, seem to have taken to the Europeans. In fact, a gaggle of Irish-Americans turned the 18th green into a European welcoming party yesterday afternoon, serenading McGinley and Padraig Harrington with the international “soccer cheer” after the Dublin duo buried Tiger Woods and Davis Love, 4&3.

But despite those serious discrepancies in the circumstances, the Brookline miracle does prove a team that has looked flat and ineffectual all week is capable of making a rousing run in the singles.

Just as U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw did at Brookline, Sutton has front-loaded this morning’s lineup hoping for a spate of early American victories and a major momentum shift. And just as Crenshaw did at Brookline, Sutton planned on tweaking the troops with one, last impassioned pep talk last night.

“All it takes is one guy to say the right thing, whether it’s me or somebody else,” said Sutton, hoping something was mentioned that would inspire the Americans. “I really didn’t think it was Ben that said anything that night that got it started. It was when everybody started around the room talking about what the Ryder Cup had meant to them. And each conversation got a little deeper and a little bit more touching and everybody got their heart touched.”

It’s going to take a lot more than a few weepy sentiments to stop the Europeans from condemning the U.S. to a shameful fourth defeat in the last five Ryder Cups.

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