Ryder Cup passion play sets up super Sunday finish

Cam Cole
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We like to think, in Canada, that the little show our boy Mike Weir takes part in every couple of years, the Presidents Cup, is pretty good theatre, and sometimes - like 2003 in South Africa - it's hard to believe anything in golf could be better.

But that's because so many Ryder Cups of recent vintage have been blowouts.

This one, clawed at with fingernails and held on to by the skins of the teeth and accompanied by wrenched guts and pulses pounding like hammers in the eardrums - and that's just the fans - is delivering a lesson in drama that its junior competitor can only dream of one day equalling.

USA's Jim Furyk reacts after making a birdie putt on the 17th hole during a four-ball match at the Ryder Cup golf tournament at the Valhalla Golf Club, in Louisville, Ky., Saturday. - Photos by the Associated Press

Louisville, Ky. - We like to think, in Canada, that the little show our boy Mike Weir takes part in every couple of years, the Presidents Cup, is pretty good theatre, and sometimes - like 2003 in South Africa - it's hard to believe anything in golf could be better.

But that's because so many Ryder Cups of recent vintage have been blowouts.

This one, clawed at with fingernails and held on to by the skins of the teeth and accompanied by wrenched guts and pulses pounding like hammers in the eardrums - and that's just the fans - is delivering a lesson in drama that its junior competitor can only dream of one day equalling.

This may well be as great a passion play as there is in international sport, and no apologies to soccer's World Cup will be forthcoming.

Saturday's final two hours of brilliant play, sportsmanship and nerve-jangling tension - at the end of day in which the European team spent 10 hours and played 138 holes to claw one tiny, precious point closer to the U.S. team than they were the night before - was like nothing else this sport has seen in the new millennium.

And it sets up a Sunday of 12 singles matches that, for a change, promise more of the same and not merely a coronation of one side or the other.

The United States leads 9-7, needing 5-1/2 points from the singles to take back the Cup for the first time since 1999, while the Euros need seven wins today to retain it. The session is led off by the once-irrepressible Euro sparkplug Sergio Garcia versus his American counterpart, Anthony Kim, ends with Chad Campbell against Padraig Harrington, and in between looks to favour the Europeans.

But has anything about this whole week been predictable?

The game is afoot, as Holmes would say - Sherlock, that is, not J.B.

"It was America's day Friday, it was ours today," said European captain Nick Faldo, whose team's 4-1/2 to 3-1/2 margin on the day seemed, somehow, larger. "That was our goal, to chip away at that lead, and there were moments it could have gone either way. The team is very up. We believe we have a great opportunity."

"I'm anxious to get out there and play. I feel like a dog that somebody stuck a needle into and juiced me all up. Feel like one of them greyhounds that run around the track chasing a bunny," said Boo Weekley, who toned down his cheerleading, but not his game, Saturday, and carried Holmes around to a 2 and 1 victory over Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen to get the Americans' only full point of the afternoon.

It's hard to know where to begin to describe what happened in the closing holes Saturday, as the last three matches all came to the 18th green, each one delivering impossibly great golf.

The Europeans won 2-1/2 of the four points available in the morning foursomes, and that's where the day's only change in the relative standing of the teams took place. And yet by sundown, those alternate-shot matches felt as though they'd taken place a week ago.

As the day began, Faldo was looking like a candidate to challenge Hal Sutton and Mark James as the worst Ryder Cup skippers in history. Sitting out Garcia, unbeaten for life in foursomes, and Westwood, who'd tied Arnold Palmer's record for most consecutive matches unbeaten, from the morning session . . . what was he thinking?

But Westwood, scratched ostensibly because his new shoes had given him "whopping great blisters on his feet," according to Faldo, now may need treatment for contusions to his ego, after he and partner Hansen lost 2 and 1 to the Goobers - Weekley and Holmes - in the afternoon.

That wasn't a good sign for the Euros.

But by nightfall, with Paul Casey and Ian Poulter, Faldo's captain's picks, having each holed a putt to clinch valuable points for Europe - Poulter made a mile of them, and has played a fabulous Ryder Cup, ending with a clutch three-footer at the 18th to team with rock-solid Graeme McDowell to beat Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry 1-up; Casey, paired with Garcia, making a 15-footer for birdie to get a half-point from Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis - Faldo was looking like a genius.

There isn't room to list, let alone put in context, the number of times Stricker's putter was money against Garcia and Casey, or how Weekley carried Holmes on his back when his partner was out of hole after hole, or how great Furyk was to keep himself and Perry in the game, or how many times Northern Ireland's McDowell stepped up in pressure situations and flushed perfect iron shots or holed lengthy putts, or how sensationally Sweden's Robhert Karlsson played the back nine, with birdies on six of seven holes from the ninth through the 15th, and another at No. 18.

There were moments you simply don't see in other sports, like when Stricker, facing a near-impossible pitch shot from the high rough right of the 18th green, backed away from a shot and politely asked a fan to turn down his in-ear radio, and then thanked him. Or earlier, when Stricker, the very mildest-mannered of people, poured in a birdie on top of one that had Garcia fist-pumping and screaming, and actually pumped his own fist and yelled.

"That's not me, that's not the kind of player I am," the 41-year-old Ryder Cup rookie admitted later. "But it does come out, in this competition. It just ... comes out."

Or when Weekley nearly holed out from a fairway bunker at the 15th and then, when asked if that was the best shot he'd ever hit, said: "I'd have to say about No. 9. I done had eight holes-in-one, so I have to put that one after it."

Poulter may be the man of the matches to date, with three full points and a fourth that only escaped at the 18th hole in his first match, and he has been duly impressed by the gravity of the task.

"It's all a bit of as blur, actually. I just managed to pick the right line on every putt today. When it was needed, I managed to come up with the goods. I was digging deep. You have to hole putts in this format."

"What the guys are able to do . . . you can almost say you never see faces like that," said Faldo. "When guys hole the putt, the relief, the sheer emotions of the faces, you don't get in a regular tournament. I am amazed. I haven't been down there next to the players in a number of years."

These players, even the most physically and mentally exhausted of them, can't wait to get back at it today.

It's just the second time in the last 13 Ryder Cups that the U.S. has had the lead going into singles, and the last time it happened, 1995, the Europeans came from behind the same 9-7 deficit to win.

The Ryder Cup has waited a long time for a Sunday like this.




SINGLES PAIRINGS

Kim (USA) vs. Garcia (EUR)
Mahan (USA) vs. Casey (EUR)
Leonard (USA) vs. Karlsson (EUR)
Mickelson (USA) vs. Rose (EUR)
Perry (USA) vs. Stenson (EUR)
Weekley (USA) vs. WIlson (EUR)
Holmes (USA) vs. Hansen (EUR)
Furyk (USA) vs. Jimenez (EUR)
Cink (USA) vs. McDowell (EUR)
Stricker (USA) vs. Poulter (EUR)
Curtis (USA) vs. Westwood (EUR)
Campbell (USA) vs. Harrington (EUR)

Organizations: Mark James

Geographic location: United States, Louisville, Ky., Canada South Africa Europe Northern Ireland Sweden

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Recent comments

  • Joan
    July 02, 2010 - 13:11

    Faldo was useless and will not be in charge again. People who think too much of themselves do not make good leaders. J Hickey

  • Joan
    July 01, 2010 - 19:47

    Faldo was useless and will not be in charge again. People who think too much of themselves do not make good leaders. J Hickey