- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 18, 2004

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Condemning the U.S. team to its darkest opening day in Ryder Cup history, the Europeans delivered a drubbing at Oakland Hills yesterday, forging a 61/2-11/2 lead in the 35th matches.

“Y’all saw very few of the Americans really show up today,” U.S. captain Hal Sutton said after his squad earned fewer points in one day than any U.S. team in history. “It looked like they were trying to make something happen, and it looked like we were trying to make sure we didn’t have anything bad happen.”

The day was defined by the futile efforts of Sutton’s star pairing of world No.2 Tiger Woods and world No.4 Phil Mickelson. The top-ranked U.S. players, never before partnered in team competition because of their mutual animosity, stalked off the 7,077-yard, par-70 layout without speaking to the media after suffering a pair of demoralizing defeats.

Scottish stalwart Colin Montgomerie and Irishman Padraig Harrington clipped the American power pairing 2&1 in the morning four-balls. And then best mates Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood rallied from 3-down through five holes to edge the dud duo 1-up in the afternoon foursomes, making a mockery of Sutton’s unconventional strategy.

The trials of the Americans were typified by the manner in which their day ended against Clarke and Westwood.

With the match all square on the 18th tee, Mickelson hit a shockingly poor 3-wood off the tee, provoking a look of absolute incredulity from Woods. It tracked some 50 yards left of the fairway’s center cut on the 494-yard 18th hole, finishing against an out-of-bounds fence and leaving Woods with no stance and no option but to take a penalty drop. Effectively, both the 18th and the match were lost before Woods made a swing on the hole.

The shot was the most extreme example of a series of horrific tee balls from Mickelson, who dubiously switched from Titleist to Callaway woods just two weeks ago despite being in the midst of a career season. Lefty missed fairway after fairway, making just two birdies in the morning and sticking Woods in some awful spots in the afternoon.

Asked about the imprudence of Mickelson’s 11th-hour club switch (for a reported $10million) and his difficulty adapting to Tiger’s Nike ball in the foursomes, Sutton verbally scorched his left-handed star.

“It’s not going to cause us any grief in the morning, because he’s going to be cheering instead of playing,” said Sutton, who benched Mickelson for this morning’s opening four-balls. “I wouldn’t have [switched clubs the week before the Ryder Cup], but I’m not Phil Mickelson and I’m not in his shoes. … We’ll all want answers to that. But the most important person that’s going to have to wonder about that is going to be Phil Mickelson.”

Mickelson and Sutton undoubtedly will bear the brunt of the criticism for yesterday’s debacle, but virtually every player wearing the Stars and Stripes was culpable for the catastrophe.

Davis Love III, 0-2 for the day, played more like a 6-handicapper than a six-time Ryder Cup veteran, missing every meaningful putt in sight. Former major champion David Toms failed to make a birdie during his morning match with Jim Furyk and sat out the afternoon. And rising U.S. star Chad Campbell looked absolutely overwhelmed by the atmosphere, his Ryder Cup debut turning into a wrong-way rout.

“What I see out there is too much tightness,” Sutton said. “I see freewheeling on the part of the Europeans.”

The Euros certainly seemed more relaxed. But that tends to happen when the morning session produces a 31/2-1/2 near-sweep in your favor.

Once again, Monty provided the spiritual and execution template the entire European team attempted to emulate. The 41-year-old improved his Ryder Cup record to a stunning 18-7-5 with two more victories and is arguably nearing recognition as the greatest player in the history of the biennial event.

“I choose my partners very well. That’s key,” Montgomerie said after teaming twice for victory with Harrington, the world’s sixth-ranked player. “But I do enjoy being part of a team more than I enjoy playing by myself.”

Sutton lauded Monty’s aggressive match-play style and his team-only attitude as dusk arrived at Oakland Hills, then assured the collected media with passionate words and boiling demeanor he would deliver a stern message tonight to his charges.

“Oh, yeah, we’re going to have a team meeting,” said Sutton, who looked angry enough to pull a Frank Francisco at any moment. “I’m going to have to put that cowboy hat back on. This time I might get the reins out, too, and make them wet.”

No doubt, the red, white and blue will get a stern message from Sutton, who also is certain to point out the U.S. team trailed 6-2 after Day 1 at Brookline in 1999 before mounting the greatest rally in the event’s history.

“I don’t think they want to be consoled,” Sutton said. “When I get really mad at myself, I don’t want somebody patting me on the back and loving on me. And I can assure you I’m not going to be loving on them. … I’m going to tell them I need five points tomorrow — five points or Sunday’s a formality. It’s as simple as that.”

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