Golf: Americans in single-minded fightback

RYDER CUP Europe's players struggle to hold a late charge by US team apparently emboldened by shirts depicting past heroes

NEEDING ONLY four points to retain the Ryder Cup, Mark James and his European team knew it was not going to be easy in yesterday's singles at the Country Club of Brookline. But no one was quite prepared for the strength of the American fightback.

Starting four points down, double the biggest comeback margin in 32 previous matches, the United States faced the prospect of losing an unprecedented third consecutive match. Their players appeared for the singles in shirts designed by Ben Crenshaw and featuring photographs of the Ryder Cup and previous winning American teams.

On Saturday evening the US skipper had announced: "I am a believer in fate and I have a good feeling about this." It was even better when America took control of the top half of the draw, creating a sea of red on the scoreboard. Not for the first time, while the Europeans seemed to hole all the putts on the first two days, it was the Americans, now with the responsibility of playing on their own, who were doing so yesterday.

All three of the players James had sat out of the opening two days were among the top-six in his order. It was Open runner-up Jean Van de Velde who fell first, losing 6 and 5 to Davis Love, while, in something of a grudge match, Phil Mickelson beat Jarmo Sandelin 5 and 3.

The other three were all players who had played in every series and might have suffered from fatigue. In the vital top match, Lee Westwood lost 3 and 2 to Tom Lehman, who hit every fairway and every green and has not lost any of his three singles, and then Hal Sutton beat Darren Clarke 4 and 2 to tie the match. It would be up to those in the bottom of the draw to decide the cup's ultimate destination.

Europe's 10-6 lead going into the singles, after a second day in which the points were split 4-4, was one point less than their best ever, at Muirfield Village in 1987, and at Valderrama two years ago. Once again, on Saturday the standard of play was superb, with the difference that the Americans were sharing in the brilliant shot-making.

After halting Europe's momentum by halving the morning foursomes, the US needed to recoup some ground in the afternoon fourballs and, early on, led in all four matches. David Duval, after sitting out in the morning, was back to his best and showing an appreciation for an event he had virtually dismissed prior to playing in it for the first time.

Phil Mickelson rediscovered his putting touch and almost holed out from the fairway. Davis Love hit a brilliant second from the top of the rocky outcrop by the dogleg of the par-five ninth, an area known as the Himalayas, to six inches. Hal Sutton, at the short 16th, was merely a few millimetres away from achieving America's first hole-in-one in the Ryder Cup.

But, somehow, the Europeans hung on. Miguel Angel Jimenez had virtually to carry his compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal, but the Ollie's vast experience of such occasions meant he could talk his partner through the drama. Jimenez birdied three holes in a row from the fourth to go two-up and, though Sutton's shot at the 16th squared the match, the Spaniards hung on for an important half.

The other squared match involved the unbeaten Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik. Having won their first three matches, the stunning effective mix of the youngest Ryder Cupper ever and one of the most eccentric had to pull back level four times against Love and Duval, finally doing so at the 18th, when Garcia holed from seven feet. The youngster's unconfined joy has been reminiscent of Seve Ballesteros.

"Sergio has been a replacement for the young Seve," said James. "He is definitely a force that this team has felt positively. And Jesper is a very hard man in matchplay. He's the perfect foil to Sergio. Plus, he's a pretty good weight so Sergio can lift him which has proved to be an advantage."

Colin Montgomerie proved the other strong man and, with Open champion Paul Lawrie, won two and a half points. In their 2 and 1 victory over Tiger Woods and Steve Pate, Monty holed out superbly on the back nine and then Lawrie hit his tee shot stiff at the 16th. "They are both very good teams playing pretty well under pressure," James said. "We are seeing some great golf, unbelievable stuff," said Crenshaw. "There are been some tremendously hard-fought matches, superlative golf. We're just so close." Yet, the Americans were left trailing, just as they were at Valderrama, and Crenshaw had no idea why US teams have recently underperformed in the foursomes and fourballs.

"We're still trying to figure that out," he said. "Whether they feel better with talking over a shot with a partner, they do a very fine job at it. I wish I could break down the differences. It's something we could talk about all evening."

The influence of the captains can be overstated, but while James went back to basics, Crenshaw perhaps overanalysed. James settled on his main pairing and kept with them. "There was nothing particularly deep involved," he said. "Those guys wanted to play with each other, simple as that."

But Crenshaw only used two pairings more than once and, having played Sutton and Jeff Maggert three times, with two important wins, should have kept them together. "It was all too complex to tell you the things I was thinking about," the US captain admitted.

Crenshaw stated before the match that he had tremendous flexibility in pairing any of his players and that all 12 were playing well in practice. The former turned out to be a complicating factor and the latter did not continue once the competition began. Woods, Mickelson and Leonard only contributed a point each, and Duval half a point.

Where James gambled was in leaving out three players - Andrew Coltart, Jean Van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin -- until yesterday's singles. Only two players, Michael King in 1979 and Gordon J Brand in 1983, had suffered a similar indignity, and not even ruthless leaders like Tony Jacklin and Seve Ballesteros considered such a tactic.

The potential drawbacks were in leaving the threesome cold in the vital head-to-head contests, and that the seven players who were playing for the fifth time in three days would be tired. "It was a very difficult decision to make," James said. "It probably helped that they knew every step of the way how we were thinking.

"Decisions of that nature tend to be taken by the team, and it helped that Jarmo, Jean and Andrew have been tremendously supportive. It's a great shame they were left out, but I came here with the object of getting 100 per cent out of this team and the most points I could."

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin