- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England There was no disguising his nerves.
For this man, the idea of standing over a 5-foot putt to clinch the Ryder Cup paled in comparison to what was at stake yesterday at the Belfry.
Yes, captain Curtis Strange, Tiger Woods and the rest of the U.S. team know pressure but nothing compared to what one particular Birmingham bookmaker had on the line during the 34th Ryder Cup Matches. As a joke, the bookie offered odds of 200-1 against Woods losing all matches, but early yesterday things didn't seem so funny.
Although losing is as alien to Woods as a shanked drive or a case of the yips, the Ryder Cup apparently does peculiar things to the world's greatest golfer. And Woods was winless after the first day of matches.
However, alongside new best buddy Davis Love III, Woods brought things back to normal yesterday when he grafted two precious points for Strange as the United States took control. The Americans overturned Europe's slender overnight lead to enter today's singles tied at 8-8.
Love was Woods' third partner in two days but his game clicked brilliantly with the world No.1. They started shakily, losing their opening hole of their foursomes match against Europe's Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke the same combination that had beaten Woods and Paul Azinger in fourballs 24 hours earlier.
But Woods canceled out that advantage with a birdie putt at the second and from there the team, with the help of indifferent play from Bjorn and Clarke, added winning pars at the fourth, sixth and 11th to open a 3-up lead. They earned a 4-and-3 win, the day's biggest margin.
The afternoon fourball clash with Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood was not as straightforward. The advantage ebbed and flowed, and no side ever held more than a 1-up advantage.
Westwood gave the European team a 1-up lead when he birdied the 14th hole. The match stayed that way until the 17th when Garcia, who hasn't lost the infectious enthusiasm he first displayed at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., three years ago, missed a 4-foot birdie putt that would have guaranteed his team at least a halve.
Garcia's grin headed further south at the last as both he and Westwood carded bogeys and Love secured a 1-up victory with a scrappy par that ensured Woods' transition from woeful to wonderful in the space of a day. But it was Tiger's putting, especially on the back nine, that had kept the pair in the hunt.
"It's a fun feeling to play with a guy you know can make it," said Love of his new partner. "Sometimes you watch your partner and pray, but with Tiger you can just relax because you can be sure he'll deliver. He just kept pouring in the putts, and hopefully he'll sleep better now because I know he was churned up about Friday."
Strange did not panic when his team trailed 4-3 after day one. The captain has spent the three years studying the tendencies of previous Ryder Cups, and one statistic played a pivotal role in his Friday night team talk.
Standing before a montage of photos of sporting idols from Marion Jones to Lance Armstrong, Strange draped himself in the Stars and Stripes and appealed to his side's patriotism.
"This means nothing," he told them. "Only four times since 1977 have we ever led after the first day, and it's only one point."
But Strange might do well to remember what happened the last time Europe did not have an outright lead coming into Sunday's pressure cooker singles. At Oak Hill in 1995, Europe came from behind to seal its most improbable victory ever and Strange that year's controversial captain's pick bore the brunt of criticism for his woeful 0-3 record, including a pivotal singles loss to Nick Faldo.
There is no money at stake at the Belfry, but Strange looked relieved last night perhaps even more relieved than the bookmaker as he reflected on a day and said he believed the tide may have turned.
Woods will play out-of-sorts Swede Jesper Parnevik in the last singles match on the course, while European rookie Phillip Price lies in wait for world No.2 Phil Mickelson. The singles draw certainly could not have been kinder.
"I'd rather be ahead, but with the way the matches have flowed and the fact we were behind means we are pleased rather than happy with the overnight score," Strange said.
"Europe is playing well, but I have trust and belief in my team. However, that does not mean much when they step on the golf course. My job is to make sure they know what they need to do."
European captain Sam Torrance struggled to hide his disappointment that several of his pairings again let slip commanding leads. But with British bullishness the bulldog Scot rallied his troops: "They've got one Tiger, but I've got 12 lions," he said.
Maybe the bookie did look more relieved after all.

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