- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England The United States Ryder Cup team got out-thought and out-fought.
The star-studded American squad was eclipsed after what was either an American tactical error or a European brainwave yesterday during the singles session of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches at the Belfry. U.S. captain Curtis Strange brought up his big guns last while his European counterpart Sam Torrance sent the cavalry out first.
Torrance's big names came through early, and later some of his lesser knowns gave the world's top players at the end of the American lineup more than they could handle.
The result was an overwhelming singles triumph (15-12) for Europe its fourth outright win in the biennial matches since 1985 and possession of the cherished gold cup for the next two years.
"[Torrance] took a hell of a gamble by front-loading his team like he did," Strange said of Europe's 7-4 victory in singles. "Because if they don't do well, in my mind it's over."
Strange said he had no regrets about his decision to back-load.
"Are they already second-guessing me," he said. "I would do it again at this Ryder Cup, or the next one or the next."
With the teams tied at 8-8 after the first two days of fourball and foursomes play, Europe posted wins quickly beginning with Colin Montgomerie's impressive six-birdie 5 and 4 drubbing of Scott Hoch. Montgomerie, who despite being Europe's top money winner from 1993 through 1999, had been struggling with, in order, his back and his game this summer.
However, with Montgomerie's win, as well as victories from Padraig Harrington (5 and 4 over Mark Calcavecchia) and Bernhard Langer (4 and 3 over Hal Sutton), Europe soon built a healthy 11-8 lead.
The American players that remained on the course caught wind, or rather heard, what was happening ahead of them and realized their matches would be important.
"You hear the crowd roaring, and it puts more pressure on you," Phil Mickelson said. "You know your team isn't doing well."
It became apparent that the points of Tiger Woods and Mickelson, the world's two top-ranked players, were by no means assured, as two off-form Europeans Phillip Price and Jesper Parnevik put up ferocious resistance.
It was indeed the capitulation of Mickelson to the virtually unknown Welshman Price, 3 and 2, including a final 22 foot-birdie putt, that left Europe needing just half a point to win. And that point was assured when Irishman Paul McGinley calmly holed an 8-foot par-saving putt on the 18th hole to earn a halve with Jim Furyk.
It turned out that Woods could not influence the outcome, even though he insisted on playing on while wild victory celebrations were already in full swing. He conceded a winning putt at the 18th hole that left his match against the wild and erratic Parnevik all square a result few would have predicted.
"They were sacrificial lambs and they jumped up and bit the butchers," exulted the droll former Ryder Cup stalwart and television commentator Peter Alliss.
The awesome task that awaited the Europeans after the United States drew level in pairs play late on Saturday was underlined not just by the on-paper imbalance in world rankings and in major victories, but also in recent history. Europe had managed only twice in the last nine efforts to conquer America in singles play. But Strange's top-loading opened the door to a dramatic reversal of past and present form.
"We were very excited about the draw when we saw it last night in the team room," Langer said. "Curtis put his very strong guns at the very end not that bad thinking but Sam felt he needed to get a lot of blue [Europes color] out there on the scoreboard early to get the momentum and get people behind us, and it worked out very well."
Or, as the team captain put it: "The plan worked."
If Price, the world's No.119 player, was Europe's most unexpected hero eight weeks back he was in despair and contemplating giving up life as a touring professional then equally astonishing was the turnaround in the form of McGinley.
He sank putts from every corner of the green as he battled Furyk, including that nerve-testing par-saver on the final hole. No wonder he and Harrington were tossed or jumped into the lake fully-clothed and clutching an Irish flag.
There were some American heroes, too, but not enough.
Paul Azinger, playing Sweden's impressive new talent, Niclas Fasth, holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie to earn a halve. David Toms rallied from 2 down after nine holes to beat Europe's emotional leader, Sergio Garcia, 1 up and Scott Verplank pounded resurgent Lee Westwood 2 and 1.
Montgomerie, who went 4-0-1 during the competition and improved to 16-7-5 overall, remained unbeaten (4-0-2) in singles play.
"This is probably the best day ever for European golf it means a huge amount," he said after three days competition in which he never trailed the Americans during a remarkable 82 holes. "It means more for us to win it than I think it does for the might of the U.S. tour. "It's been the best Ryder Cup I have ever played in. The crowd has been fantastic and it has been great to have their support."
That's a point on which the captains of Europe and America agree.
Strange described the well-behaved but enthusiastic crowd as a "13th man" on the European team. Some pundits were left wondering, though, whether the European 13th man was the crowd or, inadvertently, Strange himself.
"Sam snookered me out there front-end loaded," Strange said. But he later asserted that his decision on back-loading had been correct. "Are they already second-guessing me. I would do it again at this Ryder Cup, or the next one or the next."

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