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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

U.S. gets a whipping in Ryder Cup

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Technically, it ended when Lee Westwood sank a four-foot par putt on the 18th hole yesterday.

Officially, and so very appropriately, the 35th Ryder Cup matches weren't over until Colin Montgomerie said they were.

The European ace, 3-1 in these matches and 19-8-5 for his Ryder Cup career, put the European team over the top early on yesterday and by the time the Euros were done they had saddled the U.S. with its most humiliating defeat in the history of these biennial matches.

Once a whipping boy for the Americans, Europe won for the fourth time in the last five matches.

And there's no question this one was a whipping. The Euros won the singles by a 7 1/2 to 4 1/2 margin, and the final score was 18 1/2 points to 9 1/2.

"The Americans are always the favorites on paper, but we always have a lot of heart and cour-

age," said Euro rookie Luke Donald.

That about sums it up as the Yanks continue to grapple with the reasons for their recent struggles in this competition.

"We need to find something, no question," said Davis Love III, who lost back-to-back holes late in his match with Darren Clarke and settled for a tie. "We certainly tried and maybe the problem is we try too hard. We want to win for our country and our captain and we start playing too tight. The Europeans had the upper hand from [Friday's] first session on."

With the Euros entering singles play needing only three points to retain the Cup, the U.S. captain, Hal Sutton, did the only thing he could yesterday, front-loading his lineup and hoping for the best.

Instead, he got more of the same.

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk won early matches and Love got one-half point, but Phil Mickelson lost. Those "big four" players on the U.S. team finished the weekend with a combined 5-12-1 record, scoring 5 1/2 of a possible 18 points.

"We came to win as a team and we lost as a team," Woods said. "It's very frustrating for all of us. I was responsible for five points and I got two. So I contributed to [the Europeans'] victory."

Added Love: "You can't second-guess Hal on anything he did. He put our best players out there Friday morning and we didn't play well. I was a big part of that. We got behind from the start and it snowballed from there."

It snowballed yesterday after Mickelson lost and Clarke escaped for a halved match after Love led 2-up with three holes to play.

Westwood and Montgomerie followed with 1-up wins over Kenny Perry and Davis Toms, respectively, and it was all over but the shouting.

NBC still had another two hours of air time, but the only ones watching may have been mannequins.

After Padraig Harrington slam-dunked a par putt on the 18th hole to beat Jay Haas 1-up in the last match to finish, the Euros proceeded to prove that they can party as well as they can play.

Garcia and Westwood finished the matches with 4-0-1 records and Harrington also scored four wins.

But it was in the cards that Montgomerie would be front and center at the decisive moment for the Euros.

On the 16th green, he made a treacherous, slick putt for birdie from about 15 feet above the hole to go 1-up on Toms, and then made a marvelous chip over a roller-coaster 17th green to within five feet. Monty saved par to halve the hole, meaning he was dormie in his match and assured of winning at least one-half point.

Westwood made a three-footer to clinch his match on the 18th green and that gave the Euros 13 1/2 points which, coupled with Montgomerie's sure one-half point, gave them the 14 points they needed to retain the Cup.

Monty went one better and secured the outright win when he putted along the top ridge at the back of the 18th green to within four feet and then ran in the putt to beat Toms 1-up.

After that, everything was overkill.

"It is as good a team as we've had," Montgomerie said. "We had strength at the top this morning, we had strength in the middle and we had strength at the bottom.

"Lee and I had a chat this morning. He was No. 5 [the fifth match] and I was No. 6. And we felt that was about the time we could win. It just happened that it fell on me. But it didn't matter who holed the putt. It was the point we needed to win as a team."

The Americans insisted they were no less of a team, but they also know what the final score was.

"It was bad, and we've lost four of the last five Ryder Cups," said Furyk. "You can imagine how disappointed we are."

Woods suggested that "when you watch the highlight of the matches, you'll see the Europeans making a boatload of putts. That's what it comes down to. You've got to make putts."

A win by the U.S. would have demanded the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history since Europe led 11-5 entering singles play, a format in which the Americans usually prevail.

Early on, a miracle did not seem out of the question. Woods was in control, Mickelson was 2-up, Love was 2-up at several times in his match, Furyk was routing David Howell, and Kenny Perry had a two-hole lead on Westwood.

"It was pretty exciting," said Toms. "I looked up at one point and I was the only guy losing, which wasn't exciting.

"You know, I guess that's just kind of the way the whole week went. Even when things started to look good for us, like it might be an awesome day, it quickly turned the other way and went south."

Further south, in fact, than any U.S. Ryder Cup team had ever traveled.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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