- The Washington Times - Monday, September 22, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The Ryder Cup finally belongs to the United States.

Riding on the shoulders of the grittiest crop of rookies in U.S. history, Paul Azinger’s underdog bunch finished off the Europeans in style Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club. The United States ended a decade of futility in the biennial event with a 16 1/2-11 1/2 throttling of the Europeans after scoring a decisive 7 1/2-4 1/2 victory in the closing singles.

“I poured my heart and soul into this for two years, and these players poured their heart and soul into it this week,” a choked-up Azinger said after the United States’ first Ryder Cup victory since 1999. “I’m just so proud of these guys.”

Azinger’s front-loading strategy worked to perfection in singles play. A handful of early matches quickly turned U.S. red, which allowed veteran Jim Furyk to clinch the Cup out of the seven-slot with a 2 and 1 victory over Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez.

The United States, which entered the day with a 9-7 lead, needed 5 1/2 of the 12 available points to secure the upset. Early victories by Anthony Kim, Kenny Perry, Boo Weekley and J.B. Holmes and a halve from Hunter Mahan gave the Americans a 13 1/2-9 1/2 edge with five matches remaining.

The 38-year-old Furyk, a part of four U.S. failures in the event, then stuck the final sword in the European cause. Furyk never trailed against Jimenez and carded six birdies in a match that ended when the Spaniard conceded Furyk’s 2-foot par putt at the 17th.

From a European perspective, capitulation was an appropriate ending for the 37th installment of the transatlantic series because the European machine from Oakland Hills (2004) and K Club (2006) never showed up in Louisville.

The primary culprits for the failure were three-time major champion Padraig Harrington and previous Ryder Cup stalwarts Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood. Assuming more responsibility for the loss than captain Nick Faldo, the European trio finished with a 0-7-5 mark.

Young players on both teams belied their experience to define the event, but the class of six U.S. rookies carried Azinger’s team to victory with a combined 9-4-8 record in the event.

Three of those rookies deserve to share MVP honors for the United States. Kim, Mahan and Weekley played 15 matches at Valhalla while absorbing just one loss. Given the Ryder Cup’s unparalleled pressure, that’s a near-miraculous mark unlikely to be equaled by a Ryder Cup rookie triad.

Perhaps even more impressively, Kim (2-1-1), Mahan (2-0-3) and Weekley (2-0-1) also served as the spiritual soul of one of the most impassioned U.S. Ryder Cup experiences.

The singles provided a perfect finishing platform for the three instant U.S. team stars. Kim led the United States onto the course Sunday afternoon, setting the tone for the rest of the day by obliterating Garcia 5 and 4. The 23-year-old Los Angeles native played 14 holes in 7 under to add another dismal chapter to Garcia’s resume.

“I got chills up my spine the whole day,” Kim said. “I loved every minute of it. I wouldn’t trade this for $10 million. … I’m coming out of my skin right now I’m so excited. We’re obviously very proud of ourselves, but hopefully there are a lot more of these coming.”

Kim likely represents the future of American golf, from anchoring the Ryder and Presidents Cups to providing a proper rival for Tiger Woods.

But Weekley best represents the U.S. triumph at Valhalla. Weekley established himself as a clutch blue-collar star over the weekend. Stirring the galleries into a frenzy with his flawless iron-play and uncommon charisma, the 35-year-old rookie superseded John Daly as golf’s country king in Louisville.

“This here is right up my alley,” Weekley said after he defeated England’s Oliver Wilson 4 and 3 behind six birdies and an eagle. “I’d say the Ryder Cup is pretty awesome. I think the more we’re together, the closer we’re going to get. I think we actually became a family, and that’s something we’ve been missing in the past a little. … I think maybe we just saw a little piece of U.S. magic this week.”

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