- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 28, 2002

It's no surprise that Europe leads the United States by a point after the first day of the 34th Ryder Cup.

Europe always dominates the team portion of the biennial tussle. Starting in 1983, Europe has trailed after fourballs and foursomes play only once (1995). And finding the explanation for that European superiority in the teammate formats might be as simple as studying the personality differences between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods.

Take, for example, the manner in which Garcia handled the conclusion of his morning fourball match with Lee Westwood. The European pair came to the par-5, 15th hole 3 up on the American duo of David Duval and Davis Love. The Spaniard had carried Westwood all morning. And after a pair of brilliant shots at the 15th, Garcia found himself with a 25-footer for eagle. The Americans had both made par. Westwood was lying 18 feet from the cup for birdie. And all Garcia needed to do was lag his eagle putt into concession distance to close the match.

But that's not how the charismatic 22-year-old chose to conclude his morning's fun. Though he was away, Garcia elected to have Westwood putt first, provoking the following immediate comment from analyst Johnny Miller:

"I just really don't understand this strategy."

Of course you don't, Johnny. You are, well, an American a U.S. Tour guy through and through.

Now what proceeded to happen was that Westwood jarred the putt to finish off the American duo 4 and 3. The 29-year-old Westwood, the former world top-5 who has endured the kind of total career free fall only players like Ian Baker-Finch can understand, got to be the hero. Westwood, who hasn't booked a top-10 finish in more than a year, got the chance to grin unabashedly for one of the first times this season. Westwood, who came to the Belfry with a nasty crack in his confidence and a putting stroke that would make Tom Watson wince, walked off the 15th green having drained the match's definitive putt.

Scoff if you want at such a seemingly minor gesture, but it's not the kind of thing that would never occur to the average U.S. player witness Miller's reaction. It's not simply an issue of emotion. The U.S. players are passionate. But the Europeans are compassionate.

And Garcia's little slump-busting scheme seemed to work. The pair dropped Woods and Mark Calcavecchia 2 and 1 in the afternoon foursomes, with Westwood rolling home a handful of pivotal clutch putts.

"I want us both to have a good time out there that's most important," said Garcia, who was his usual backslapping, partner-hugging, high-fiving self during both victories with the Brit. "We're trying to play as well as we can but have fun, too."

"Fun" is not a word U.S. players associate with the Ryder Cup. It's a business. As Woods will tell you, PGA Tour players are "independent contractors." Yeah, they're independent, all right. Woods didn't do much chatting with either of his partners yesterday en route to two losses.

Sure, he played well enough to win with Paul Azinger in the morning, carding six birdies. But the 26-year-old leviathan was atrocious in the afternoon opposite Calcavecchia. Woods basically handed the match to the Euros with two consecutive putting blunders, shoving a par putt from five feet at No.11 and yanking a 3-footer at the 12th. When is the last time Tiger missed back-to-back putts inside five feet? He probably had to pull out his pacifier to curse.

But it wasn't just his pedestrian play that stuck out. It was his carriage and attitude. He was, of course, absolutely hemorrhaging seriousness. But more concerning, he didn't seem to be very intrigued by the team aspect of the formats. He didn't help either of his partners read putts. And they didn't help him. And most surprisingly, during the afternoon foursomes he didn't even accompany Calcavecchia to the tee box when it wasn't his turn to drive. Now, that's a little strange. We're not asking for pompoms, Tiger, but how about an extra 100 yards of solidarity?

Meanwhile, Garcia predictably spent the whole day so close to his partner that we're certain Westwood's firstborn will emerge from the womb speaking Spanish. The effusive youngster was slightly less exuberant than he was as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1999. But the results were the same, and Garcia is now 5-0-1 in Ryder Cup team play. And you get the feeling that if European captain Sam Torrance had sent him out there with ailing Jesper Parnevik, he would still be undefeated.

Garcia just has that magnetic air about him. He's Seve with a smile. For years, Ballesteros was Europe's hyper kinetic leader. Seve holds the all-time Ryder Cup record for team format victories (18). He was the perfect partner, able to wring almost as much brilliance out of obscure teammates (Paul Way, Manuel Pinero and David Gilford) as he was out of superb understudy Jose Maria Olazabal. Like Ballesteros, Garcia's spirit is infectious. And apparently, so are his golf skills because everybody who plays with Garcia at the Ryder Cup seems instantly improved.

"It just seems like it's easy to hit great shots with Sergio there behind you," Westwood said.

And perhaps it's more difficult to hit great shots when you have Tiger stalking out there in front of you. He might find Sergio's act a bit immature, but maybe he could use a few smiles, maybe even a hug. Because after yesterday's two losses, Woods is now a woeful 3-8-1 in Ryder Cup play. Today he'll get his eighth different partner in 11 career team matches for the morning foursomes (Davis Love III). That's Elizabeth Taylor-style turnover. And you know what? It says an awful lot about Woods as a teammate.

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