- Associated Press - Friday, October 1, 2010

NEWPORT, WALES (AP) - The Sir Terry river was flowing wildly down the hill toward the 18th green, as thousands of fans trudged toward home through the muck of a golf course that was never supposed to flood. Taking advantage of a badly needed break, U.S. Ryder Cup players huddled in their team room, presumably trying to figure out why an event that earns so many millions couldn’t afford to give them rain jackets that didn’t leak.

At least the jackets offered a convenient excuse. Better to blame the equipment for what was starting to shape up as a European rout than face the reality that, just a few holes into the Ryder Cup, the Americans were already a team in desperate disarray.

The day before their captain had forgotten Stewart Cink was even there. On this miserable day, it seemed like most of the team had forgotten how to play.

Their shots were as ugly as their leaky rain jackets, which looked as if they might have been leftovers from the U.S. track team in the 1960 Olympics. Tiger Woods seemed so embarrassed to be seen in his that he took it off before embarrassing himself anyway by taking four shots to reach the first green.

If the fairways that billionaire owner Sir Terry Matthews said could never flood hadn’t flooded, the Americans would have been finished before afternoon tea. But even billionaires can mess up a sure thing, and for that the Americans should buy the Celtic Manor founder a pint.

Matthews boasted earlier that the course could take a month’s worth of rain and drain in 10 minutes. It got a week’s worth, and it took seven hours and 18 minutes.

The delay did more than just give the fairways a chance to dry out. It gave the Americans perhaps the only chance they had to regroup.

New jackets. New swings. New hope.

And new appreciation, perhaps, for a team that suddenly doesn’t seem like such an underdog.

“We all made good comebacks, I thought,” Steve Stricker said. “We all kind of rallied a little bit, and they are going to be tight and close.”

None of it translated into any points, but those will come soon enough. Sometime Saturday morning is the best guess, when the four opening better ball matches should finish in a Ryder Cup that organizers will try to compress into two long and wet days.

The relentless rain forced officials to combine formats and send off every player in the remaining three rounds, hoping against hope that the new front coming in Sunday won’t dump so much more rain on the course that the Sir Terry river starts churning again. Not everyone _ the weatherman in particular _ is convinced the new plan will work. If it doesn’t, the Ryder Cup will go to a Monday for the first time.

Either way, the most carefully laid plans of both team captains can be tossed away. They can’t rest anyone now, can’t sit a bad player and can’t make some of the pairings they might like to make.

Captains Colin Montgomerie and Corey Pavin agreed to the changes; then again, they didn’t have much choice. They work for the people running the Ryder Cup, the same people who refused to give any of the many thousands of fans who left early refunds on their $160 tickets.

“I’m pleased that the solution was thought of by very smart people, other than myself, because I’m not a smart person,” Pavin said.

On that, Pavin might have gotten some agreement before his players rallied to take leads in two of four matches and tie a third. Though Pavin always comes off as dull to the colorful Montgomerie, he was under fire even before play began for forgetting to introduce Cink at the opening ceremony and for pairings some thought were questionable.

He looked a lot better as darkness halted play, largely because the conditions had changed and the Americans found the lack of wind and soft greens to their liking. Cink made five birdies in 11 holes, Woods and Phil Mickelson began showing some signs of life, and the surprise pairing of rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton also played solid.

If play hadn’t resumed Friday, the Americans would have faced a long night wondering what else could go wrong. They might have gone to bed haunted by the sight of fans carrying around life-sized cardboard replicas of Monty holding the Ryder Cup.

Now, the swagger is back. It’s anyone’s cup.

Assuming the Sir Terry doesn’t overflow again, the game is back on.

___

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org