Fri, Sep 22, 2006 - Page 23 News List

US hopes to settle old Ryder Cup score

TRANSATLANTIC BATTLE The US has teamed up the world's three top golfers with four rookies to wrest back the trophy from a veteran European squad

AFP , STRAFFAN, IRELAND

Fans of US golfer Tiger Woods hold a banner as the US Ryder Cup team members practice on the 9th hole on the second practice day for the Ryder Cup competition at the K Club in Straffan, Ireland, on Wednesday. Fears that the 36th Ryder Cup could be disrupted by bad weather mounted when gale force winds forced organizers to close the K Club course to spectators and non-essential staff on Wednesday. Both the European and US teams were forced to remain in their locker rooms as practice rounds scheduled for the morning were postponed.

PHOTO: AFP

Weather permitting, the top 12 golfers in the US will set off today to recapture the Ryder Cup from Europe and gain revenge for the traumatic loss on home soil two years ago.

That record 18-5-9.5 trouncing at Oakland Hills, Michigan, still rankles with Americans, especially the way they were crushed in the singles, usually their strong point, 7.5-4.5 on the final day.

The US team can boast the three top-ranking golfers in the world in Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk.

But they also have four rookies -- Vaughn Taylor, Brett Wetterich, JJ Henry and Zach Johnson -- whose experience of playing outside the US is almost non-existent and who have next to no experience of matchplay.

In contrast, Europe have a squad that is high on experience, intimate with the K-Club venue west of Dublin and brimming with confidence having won four out of the last five transatlantic contests.

The Europeans are the betting favorites for the first time although both sides are predicting a closely fought contest.

US captain Tom Lehman has scoffed at comments that his side are the worst ever to represent their country but he says he has no problem with being billed as the underdogs.

"I think if you look at it on paper in the history of the last 10 Ryder Cups, the European team has been the strongest in this format. I would say that they have to be the favorite here in Ireland. I wouldn't say they are huge favorites though -- both teams are very capable," Lehman said.

His European counterpart Ian Woosnam agrees that his side have the edge based around the experience and will to win of players such as Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal and Darren Clarke.

Those assets are allied to the confirmed talents of Luke Donald, Paul Casey and David Howell, all three of whom made splendid cup debuts two years ago.

Woosnam, who in his eight Ryder Cups as a player excelled in fourballs and foursomes but failed to win any of his eight singles ties, has been stressing a straightforward, uncomplicated approach.

Asked what of his attributes was most important to the role he is playing, Woosnam had no hesitation in replying.

"My will to win and my excitement," he said.

"I always seem to have battled all of my golfing career to prove something to someone and hopefully that will come through the way I'll captain my team this week."

While there has been no shortage of the "it's not about me, it's about the team" mantra during the buildup at the K-Club, there has been no getting away from the fact that Tiger Woods is a huge sub-plot.

His performance, presumably in all five sessions, is seen as key to who will hold the trophy aloft on Sunday.

Equipped with a new partner in Furyk, the 30-year-old world No.1 will be playing in his fifth Ryder Cup and hoping at last to dominate a team event that he has admitted has caused him no end of frustrations in the past.

Woods insists that he is now one of the senior members of the team and as such has responsibilities towards the newcomers that he is determined to meet.

"It's disappointing, I haven't won points in the Cups that I have been to for my team," he said of his 7-11 losing record.

"It's frustrating because you feel like you've not only let yourself down but you've let your teammate down as well," Woods said.

Apart from Woods and Furyk, Mickelson and David Toms will form the bedrock of the US challenge with Lehman pulling the strings.

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