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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 7 March 2021

Europe to the fore as Montgomerie's men rally to take charge

Europe nearly pulled off a clean sweep yesterday with a performance that wiped out Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of America's stars.

NEWPORT, WALES // Europe nearly pulled off a clean sweep yesterday, taking a huge step toward reclaiming the Ryder Cup with a performance that wiped out Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of America's stars. The Ryder Cup will be finishing on a Monday for the first time, and it has all the makings of a huge European celebration at soggy Celtic Manor.

Captain Colin Montgomerie's squad kept the scoreboard bathed in blue all day. When it was over, Woods had the worst loss of his Ryder Cup career, Mickelson was the losingest US player ever and the defending champions faced a daunting 9-6 deficit heading into singles play. "Just a great day," Ian Poulter said. "The key was just try and put your foot on the pedal and keep going." 

The margin is not insurmountable, however. The Americans are traditionally stronger in singles play, and they overcame a 10-6 deficit on the final day at Brookline in 1999.

But that match was at home, with a raucous crowd cheering them on. The Europeans will be hearing most of the cheers when they tee off in extra time, with the match extended to a fourth day by torrential rains. Officials changed the schedule and still hoped to finish by Sunday, but another drenching during the night turned the course into a swamp. 

The suspended team matches finally began nearly four hours behind schedule, but that did little to stem the European momentum from the previous evening. They were leading in all six matches at nightfall Saturday, and they were leading in all but one by sundown yesterday.

Even the lone American bright spot - a half-point contributed by Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar - felt like a loss. The US duo led 1 up going to the 18th hole, but Francesco Molinari, playing with brother Edoardo, stuck a wedge shot to three-feet and rolled in the birdie putt to win the hole and halve the match. The crowd roared, serenading the Europeans with chants of "Ole! Ole! Ole!" as they headed off to the clubhouse. The Americans staggered to their team room, wondering if they could come up with another Brookline comeback.

"We had that lead," Poulter said. "They were coming back at us, but you know what, it just shows how strong this side is. We kept our noses in front, and looking up at that board, seeing a sea of blue is huge motivation to keep knocking it close and keep knocking those putts in. It gives us a nice position to go out tomorrow [today] and do exactly the same." Asked if his team still had a chance, Corey Pavin, the US captain, said: "Absolutely."

"We've got 12 of the best players in the world. They have 12 best players in world, too. In match play, anything can happen. "One thing I can guarantee you is team USA is going to come out tomorrow, play hard and try to win the Ryder Cup." Woods had been unbeaten in his pairing with Steve Stricker. Not anymore. Lee Westwood, returning from a seven-week injury lay-off to play some of the best golf of his career, teamed with Luke Donald to blow away the Americans 6 and 5 in alternate play.

Westwood ended it with a six-foot par putt at the 13th, reducing Woods to the role of US fan for the rest of the day. He stayed on the course, cheering on his teammates, but all he saw was one defeat after another. "They didn't play as well as they wanted to, and the other guys played well," Pavin said. "It happens. It happens to the best of 'em." It had never happened to Woods, not like this. Not only was it his worst Ryder Cup defeat - a pairing with Mark O'Meara was a 5-and-3 loss to Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer at Valderrama in 1997 - it was Woods's worst showing in any matchplay event, whether individually or with a partner.

Previously, his biggest setback was in the 2007 Presidents Cup. Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby beat Woods and Jim Furyk 5 and 4 in a fourballs match at Royal Montreal. At least Woods and Stricker had won their first two matches, on the heels of becoming the first team in 30 years to go 4-0 in a major team competition at last year's Presidents Cup. Mickelson lost all three of his team matches, the latest the 17th defeat of his career. He had been tied with Raymond Floyd for the most losses by any American player.

First, Mickelson was paired up with Dustin Johnson. When they lost twice, Pavin put "Lefty" with 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, the youngest member of the American team. That did not work, either. The duo did fight back from three down in fourballs against Poulter and Martin Kaymer. Fowler holed out from the bunker at the 11th for an improbable eagle, then Mickelson rolled in one of his few clutch putts at the 13th to even the match.

But the US team faded miserably down the stretch. After Mickelson's equalising putt, Fowler went to the next hole and dumped his tee shot in the water. Instead of playing it safe, Mickelson tried to cut the corner, too, and nearly went in. He wound up taking a bogey, and the Europeans had the lead for good on the way to a 2-and-1 victory. Everyone had a hand in the Americans' misery. Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy held off Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan 3 and 1 the other alternate-shot match.

The other four matches were fourballs, and the Europeans dominated that format just as impressively. Ross Fisher picked up the load for struggling Padraig Harrington, leading a 2-and-1 win over Dustin Johnson and his new partner, Furyk. Bubba Watson, the Ryder Cup rookie, and Jeff Overton, the most boisterous of the American contingent, took their second straight close loss of the day when Miguel Angel Jimenez rolled in a huge putt at the 16th and held on with partner Peter Hanson for a 2-up victory.

Overton had the shot of the day, holing out from the fairway at the eighth for an eagle. "Boom, baby! Yeah! Come on!" the American screamed as he walked toward the green with Watson. By the end of the day, the Europeans were doing all the yelling and hoping to do all the celebrating tomorrow night. "They are a great US team, and you've got to expect them to come out quick," Poulter said. "So we need to keep the blue on the board and hit the right shots at the right time and play some good golf."

* Associated Press

Published: October 4, 2010 04:00 AM

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