Europeans dominating Americans in Ryder Cup

Published 1:35 am Sunday, September 24, 2006

All the Americans can hope for now is a repeat of Brookline, the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

All the Europeans can think about is Oakland Hills, their biggest blowout ever.

Sergio Garcia extended his Ryder Cup unbeaten streak to nine matches, Darren Clarke delivered another storybook finish and Paul Casey showed with one magical shot — a walkoff hole-in-one — just how much everything is going their way.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Not even a late victory by Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk could lift their team’s spirits.

The Europeans built a 10-6 lead on Saturday by winning their fourth straight set of matches, a first for them in the 79-year history of the Ryder Cup. They needed only four points from 12 singles matches remaining to capture the cup, and an outright victory would be the first time Europe has won three in a row.

“We’re getting closer to our mark,” captain Ian Woosnam said. “We’ve got to get over our hurdle tomorrow.”

The way the first two days have gone, the Sunday singles matches might look like a mere speed bump.

They have won each of the four sessions by the same score (2 1/2-1 1/2) and in the same manner. They post European blue numbers on the board early, then ride the momentum of a team that has never been this strong.

Europe won two years ago in Oakland Hills by a record score of 18 1/2-9 1/2. More than winning the cup, Garcia wants to drive home dominance by making it a clean sweep.

“We don’t want to go out there thinking, ’Let’s get 4 1/2 points,’ because that’s not the way to go,” Garcia said. “We want to go out there and win the singles, get as many points as we can.”

The Americans were in such shambles that Vaughn Taylor, a rookie who didn’t see his first Ryder Cup action until Saturday afternoon, contributed as many points — a half-point — as Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.

The U.S. hopes were inspired by a scored that looked familiar.

Seven years ago at Brookline, they also trailed 10-6 and faced long odds. They stacked their best players at the front of the lineup, then staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history for a 14 1/2-13 1/2 victory.

“Our team does not feel this is over by any stretch of the imagination,” said U.S. captain Tom Lehman, who won the opening singles match that day in Brookline. “We know that we have to play our best golf tomorrow. And we think we can do that.”

Lehman is sending David Toms out against Colin Montgomerie with Tiger Woods in the fourth spot.

Trouble is, the best players are on the other team.

Garcia teamed with Jose Maria Olazabal for a 3-and-2 victory in fourballs over Mickelson and DiMarco, then joined Luke Donald in beating Mickelson and David Toms on the 17th hole in foursomes. Garcia has never trailed in the 66 holes he has played this week, and a victory Sunday would make him the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup.

The Americans have won only three of the first 12 matches — two by Woods and Furyk, the other by Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank, the latter playing his one and only match.

“It’s imperative we as a team get off to a quick start, just like we did in ’99,” Woods said. “Hopefully, we can do the same tomorrow. The Europeans are playing great. We have to beat them. They’re not going to give it to us.”

Indeed, all they have to carry them along are memories.

Lehman, however, didn’t wag his finger at reporters and say, “I have a good feeling about this,” the way Ben Crenshaw did in 1999. Nor does he have the same props in place. President Bush — then the governor of Texas — was at Brookline and delivered an inspirational speech about the Alamo on the eve of the final round.

Someone pointed out that Bush was at The K Club, and perhaps history could repeat itself.

“That was the other George Bush,” Lehman corrected him. George H.W. Bush, the 41st president, is a guest at this Ryder Cup.

The biggest difference is the strength of the European team. At Brookline, three European rookies never played a match until Sunday singles — sent out against the United States’ best. This time, Europe has used all 12 of its players at least twice, and all have earned points.

“That wasn’t 10-6,” Colin Montgomerie said of the ’99 score. “That was 10-9 overnight. We had three rookies that not played before, and they happened to draw the three top Americans. … So I don’t want any comparisons with the score line of 10-6 as it was in 1999. This is a very, very different situation.”

Perhaps the best comparisons are to Oakland Hills. Not only did Europe dominate two years ago, the U.S. captain was on the defensive about some peculiar decisions. Hal Sutton was criticized for putting Woods and Mickelson together.

This time, Lehman left people wondering why he used a captain’s pick on Verplank, then used him only once. J.J. Henry came through in the clutch in both his fourball matches, only to have Lehman leave him on the bench in the afternoon. Lehman also took three matches — two losses and a halve — to figure out the Mickelson-DiMarco pairing was ineffective.

Then again, Europe had a lot to do with that.

Garcia has not lost in nine matches, an unbeaten streak that matches Olazabal for the longest in European history. Arnold Palmer holds the Ryder Cup record by going 12 matches in a row without losing.

The closest Garcia came Saturday was in the alternate-shot match in the afternoon, all square until Toms hit into the water on the 15th hole. The Americans were poised to tie the match on the par-5 16th, however, when Garcia drove into the rough, and Donald chipped out into a muddy patch of grass. Fearless as ever, Garcia went over the River Liffey and right at the flag, finding the green.

Lehman was standing behind the green when Donald rolled in the 25-foot birdie putt. The U.S. captain slowly closed his eyes, his index finger pressed gently on pursed lips, and shook his head. He had seen this too many times. “Those putts for us. … we’re due to start making them,” Lehman said.