- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 24, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland — The European team maintained its dominance at K Club yesterday, becoming the first team in history to win all four sets of two-ball matches while claiming a commanding 10-6 lead heading into today’s closing singles at the 36th Ryder Cup.

Once again paced by Spaniard Sergio Garcia — who improved his record in the event’s team formats to 13-1-2 with two more triumphs — the Europeans posted methodical 2-1 victories in both of the day’s sessions on the 7,335-yard, par-72 layout on the outskirts of Dublin.

“Sergio has got a big heart,” European captain Ian Woosnam said of the 26-year-old after Garcia and countryman Jose Maria Olazabal dropped the U.S. pairing of Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco in the four-balls (3&2) and Luke Donald joined Garcia for a 2&1 victory over Mickelson and David Toms in the afternoon foursomes. “He’s just determined to go out there and win for himself and win for the team. He just seems to rise to the occasion.”

Once again, the U.S. power pairings of Mickelson/DiMarco and Tiger Woods/Jim Furyk floundered. The former partnership was split in the afternoon after staggering to an 0-2-1 start. But benching DiMarco for Toms did little to help the reeling Mickelson, who slumped to 1-7-1 in his last nine Ryder Cup matches.

Woods and Furyk, on the other hand, rebounded from a morning defeat to post a convincing foursomes victory over the Irish pairing of Paul McGinley and Padraig Harrington (3&2). And while the U.S. squad enters today’s final trailing by four points, the improved form of its two toughest players gives the team hope going into a singles format that has traditionally been Europe’s weakness.

“It’s imperative that we as a team get off to a quick start like we did in 1999,” Woods said, referring to the epic American singles comeback in that year’s Ryder Cup at the Country Club of Brookline (Mass.), where the squad also slept on a 10-6 Saturday deficit. “You know, the Europeans are playing great, so we need to go out there and beat them. They’re not going to give it to us.”

Talk of the miracle at Brookline was on everyone’s lips at the conclusion of yesterday’s play. But European stalwart Colin Montgomerie was quick to point out that the circumstances surrounding that comeback were far different. Not only was that rally achieved on American soil by a far different U.S. team, one that included firebrands like Tom Lehman, Payne Stewart and Hal Sutton, it was managed against a far weaker crew of Europeans.

“That wasn’t 10-6; that was 10-9 overnight,” the 43-year-old Scot said. “We had three rookies that had not played there before, and they happened to draw the top three Americans at the time in Tiger, Davis Love and Phil Mickelson. So it wasn’t 10-6; it was 10-9. This is very different.”

Montgomerie correctly points out that in 1999, European captain Mark James benched three of his four rookies (Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde and Andrew Coltart) until the singles. The move backfired on Sunday, as all three Europeans were routed during a rousing comeback that saw the Americans capture 8 of the 12 possible singles’ points for a 14-13 victory.

Just like American captain Ben Crenshaw in 1999, Lehman has top-loaded his singles lineup in the hopes of generating a wave of early momentum.

In 1999, the Americans parlayed Crenshaw’s tactics into victories in each of the first six matches. And Lehman is hoping for a similar early sweep today by leading his charge with four veterans (Toms, Stewart Cink, Furyk and Woods).

“What made ‘99 so special, what made it possible, was the fact that the first five or six matches all got going so well so early,” said Lehman, who led the Sunday singles charge with a first-out, 3&2 victory over Lee Westwood. “You have to start with No. 1 and then pick it up with No. 2 and then No. 3, and that’s exactly what happened.”

Crenshaw famously stated on Saturday night before the unforgettable rally that he was a strong believer in fate, basically predicting the charge.

Lehman wouldn’t go quite that far last night, but he did admit his optimism.

“I know that our team has a chance. And I know that we have the ability to get the job done. And I know that our guys are determined to do it,” Lehman said. “So, do I have a feeling? I have a feeling that our team is going to play incredibly inspired golf tomorrow. … I’ve been feeling great about my team for a long time. And I’ve been feeling great about this Ryder Cup for a long time. And I can tell you right now that our team does not feel this is over by any stretch of the imagination.”



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