Golf: Ryder Cup: Arrogant Maggert lights the fuse

American tees off the psychological battle by describing his team as `best 12 players in the world'
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The Independent Online
BEN HOGAN got away with it at a long ago Ryder Cup - announcing his team as the "12 best golfers in the world" - mainly because, apart from being Hogan, he was actually right. Coming from Jeff Maggert, it was merely a reminder of the arrogant and flawed approach which has seen America lose three of their last four matches in international team competition.

Even before the teams began their first official practice session at the Country Club of Brookline for this weekend's 33rd Ryder Cup, the war of words began. Maggert, who became the inaugural World Matchplay champion in February, was a member of the US Ryder Cup teams defeated at Oak Hill and Valderrama but missed the thrashing by an International side in the Presidents Cup last December.

His controversial slip, after a career as a low-profile personality, revealed a complete lack of appreciation for the skills of the captains in putting together their pairings for the foursomes and fourballs on Friday and Saturday.

"Let's face it, we've got the 12 best players in the world and if they just go out and play golf and hit golf shots, it's hard to mess up putting two guys together," Maggert said.

Yet the Americans trailed by five points going into the singles at Valderrama two years ago and were so far behind after two days at Royal Melbourne last winter the contest was over after the first two singles on the final day.

"I think all 12 of us on our team think we're the best players in the world," Maggert said. "For the next seven days, that's my opinion. I'm sure, if you ask the European players, they'll probably have a different answer."

The world rankings do not fully support Maggert's view but they make depressing viewing for the visitors. While the Americans have 10 of the top-16 players, Europe has 10 players outside the top 15. But the rankings are based on individual strokeplay events and over the last six Ryder Cups there is only a point between the two teams, and it is in favour of the Europeans.

Hal Sutton was one of Maggert's team-mates to be surprised by the remarks. "Jeff Maggert said that?" Sutton said. "He loaded us up, didn't he?"

But Maggert denied the Americans would go into the match feeling over- confident. "We had great teams in '95 and '97 and we know what the results were then. If all 12 of us don't come out and perform, anything can happen. We're confident but no one is taking this thing for granted. I don't believe there's ever really any favourites in golf at our level."

He added: "Every day's a new day in this game. And right now they have the cup and we want it back. They [Europe] don't have a lot of Ryder Cup experience but certainly their players are talented."

One subject the Americans are determined is not an issue is the play- for-payment row, albeit in the form of charitable donations, that broke out at the USPGA last month. "We're here to play the matches," Justin Leonard said. "The PGA of America is talking about things and will let us know at the end of the year. We don't know what's going on but it is not an issue with us any more. No more questions."

Ironically, the four players fingered by the US captain, Ben Crenshaw, for their involvement - Tiger Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson and Mark O'Meara - were all out in the same group yesterday. For the Europeans, the group containing Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie could provide Mark James with two of his key pairings.

Crenshaw spent last weekend at the Maine estate of former President George Bush, who is due to attend the match, as will Prince Andrew. Such has been the interest in the match, local ticket agencies have been selling $275-$375 weekly passes for as much as $1,800 (pounds 1,110). Tickets have also been available on the internet at the on-line auction house, eBay.

The crowd has been set at 30,000 a day, but only a third of those tickets were available to the public, and only then through a lottery. Another third went to corporate hospitality and the rest to the "local, national and international golfing community".