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Published: Monday, 9/20/2004

Sutton set the stage for a U.S. disaster

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. - Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will win more major golf championships and continue earning scandalous sums of money.

Their reputations won't be sullied as a result of the U.S. losing handily to Europe in the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills Country Club. They'll leave Michigan in their private jets and never look back. They'll be able to put this disappointment behind them.

Life won't be the same bowl of cherries for U.S. captain Hal Sutton. He'll carry this loss around forever.

It will follow him, define him, haunt him and humble him.

Sutton will continue to relive his controversial decision to team Woods and Mickelson on the first day, only to have America's Great Golf Hopes go 0-2 and set the tone for Europe's decisive 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory.

"You know what? Second-guessing is a golfer's biggest problem," said Sutton, who joined the PGA Tour in 1982, played on four Ryder Cup teams and has amassed over $15 million in career earnings.

"We cannot second-guess what we did," Sutton said yesterday in the aftermath of the largest margin of victory in Ryder Cup history for the Europeans. "We've got to live in the present. I made mistakes. I take full responsibility for the mistakes that I made. I thought there was no bad way to pair the guys we had.

"Obviously the pairings that we sent out didn't create any charisma. But we might have paired it the way you liked and we might have had the same outcome. So I'm going to live with it. I'm going to move on."

Sutton still clung to the notion late yesterday that the fate of the U.S. team was out of his hands. That no matter what decisions he made, some greater power was conspiring against the Americans.

Sutton sounded confused and out of touch. He had two years to send the best possible U.S. team against the Europeans.

Victorious European captain Bernhard Langer understood right away what Sutton never seemed to comprehend.

Langer was dead-on when he said his golfers deserved all the credit. All he did was provide them with a winning game plan and the opportunity to excel.

But what became all too apparent as the Europeans racked-up points like a pinball machine was that Langer understood his team better than Sutton did.

In analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of his golfers, Langer always put them in the best position to be successful.

He paired friends with friends, and rookies with veterans. He mixed and matched to perfection.

Sutton, conversely, acted like he wanted to be remembered as the best U.S. captain in Ryder Cup history because he dared to team Mickelson and Woods when no other coach would.

At best, a Woods-Mickelson pairing would produce two points daily over the first two days. Why not split them up, pairing Mickelson with past Ryder Cup partner David Toms and Woods with Ryder Cup rookie and good friend Chris Riley with the potential to earn four points a day?

By the time Sutton made the switch a day later, it was already too late for the U.S.



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