- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 30, 2007

MONTREALAu revoir.

The United States all but cemented its first team victory on foreign soil since 1993 yesterday at Royal Montreal, riding a 5-0 sweep in the morning foursomes to a virtually insurmountable 14½-7½ lead heading into today’s singles finale at the seventh Presidents Cup.

No team has ever rallied to victory from such an abyss in either the Presidents or Ryder Cups. In fact, no team has ever come close. The U.S. squad established the comeback standard at the 1999 Ryder Cup, storming back from a 10-6 deficit to clip the Euros 14½-13½ at Brookline.

That miracle required an 8½-3½ split in the singles. The International squad, which has never beaten the United States in six previous singles sessions, needs a comically implausible 10-2 split for victory.

“It’s not over, but the egg is not sunny side up,” disheartened International skipper Gary Player said.

No, it’s all over the faces of his International charges.

As universally well as the Americans played yesterday, and every player on the roster other than Charles Howell contributed at least a point on “Uncle Samedi“, the home team’s standard of play was absolutely shocking on this Saturday.

The coup de disgrace was the morning foursomes pairing of Retief Goosen and Stuart Appleby. In 14 holes of alternate shot, that dreadful duo posted no birdies, six bogeys and an “X” (pick up/concession). The good news is that Royal Montreal is a par-70 golf course, meaning they still might have broken 80. The bad news is that they were playing actual professionals (Phil Mickelson and Woody Austin) rather than the two orangutans they apparently expected to show up on the first tee. Dispatched 5 and 4 by the U.S. pairing, Appleby and Goosen were last seen wandering the Northwest Territories in search of errant drives.

The Internationals actually have bested the United States in four-ball play this week (7-4). But yesterday’s drama-sapping morning sweep gave the U.S. squad a staggering 10½-½ record in the foursomes at Royal Montreal. Even the International squad’s sole piece of a point in the alternate shot was a gift, coming via captain Jack Nicklaus’ ordered Thursday concession of a Vijay Singh four-footer.

“I think it may be due to a bit of experience on the American team’s side,” International stalwart Ernie Els said of the shocking foursomes disparity. “You know, they play this format every year … the foursomes have been their Achilles’ heel in the Ryder Cup, but they have rectified it.”

Perhaps an equally compelling explanation for the U.S. foursomes dominance is the high number of bunt-bunt grinders on the U.S. roster. The American team features many more consistent, fairways-and-greens plodders (Stewart Cink, Scott Verplank, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker) than an International squad composed largely of birdie-bogey, Angel Cabrera/Geoff Ogilvy/Retief Goosen types. That type of boom-bust player has historically killed U.S. teams at the Ryder Cup in foursomes (see Davis Love, Fred Couples), a format that generally favors the consistently solid over the occasionally spectacular.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that top International plodder Mike Weir (2-1-1) has been the hands-down man of the match for Player’s team. Heck, during the three-day rout, he has been Player’s only man … period.

Today, Canada’s favorite son draws Tiger Woods in one of two marquee singles matches (the other features Mickelson vs. Singh) that are expected to replace the drama long-sapped from the overall team portion of the event.

“I’ve got my hands full, that’s for sure,” said Weir, who will face the world No. 1 and his 6-2-1 singles record in the day’s fourth match. “I think it’s good for the fans. Everybody is fired up about the match. We need some momentum, so hopefully I can play well and get some blue on the board.”

Don’t count on it. Even if Weir and Co. do improve their standard today, a U.S. bunch that has listened to a year’s worth of criticism in the aftermath of the K Club debacle is enjoying this week’s Ryder Cup exorcism too much to let up. Uncle Sam’s man of the match honors are still up in the air with so many success stories from which to choose. Nicklaus has once again done a masterful job of loosely steering the U.S.S. Stars and Stripes. And the boys are in form from top to bottom and circling in a frenzy around the International chum of chops.

“It’s nice to be leading by a lot, but I think we’ll go out there tomorrow like we’re tied or behind,” said Cink, one of yesterday afternoon’s heroes after rallying his four-ball pairing with Furyk from 2-down with six holes to play to a 1-up victory over Angel Cabrera and K.J. Choi. “We don’t want to just limp into this thing. We want to expand our lead. Our guys take a lot of pride in the singles and finishing strong.”

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