American Accent: Lily pads and tree trunks... Woods takes unusual path

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The Independent Online

Here we go again. It was going to be another one of those embarrassing Ryder Cups for the United States, or at least it seemed that way early yesterday, the moment Tiger Woods swung his five-wood at the first in the first fourball and drowned his ball in the lake, hitting not a patch of grass, but a lily pad.

Then, on the first shot of the first afternoon foursomes, Jim Furyk hit his drive off to the right, the ball coming to rest at the base of a sturdy tree. Woods's only option was to swing left-handed and advance the ball about 10 paces. Chances are, at that point, Woods would have chosen a chainsaw instead of an iron, but he had neglected to pack one.

And so it went for the beleaguered US, vowing not to worry about the past, but apparently destined to relive it.

The Ryder Cup is no safe haven for Woods, Phil Mickelson, Furyk - the No 1, No 2 and No 3 ranked players in the world - and the rest of their compatriots. They simply haven't had the look of a winner. Maybe it's an image thing. When they disembarked on Monday from their jet, in Ralph Lauren-inspired tweed jackets, it seemed oddly out of place, a style more associated with fox hunting than big-time intercontinental matchplay golf.

For the US, the numbers are ugly: Four defeats in the last five Cups, no victories on European soil since 1993 and, most recently, the most lopsided defeat in their history, an 18½-9½ pounding in 2004 in Michigan. Team bonding was decided to be key, so it was with a supposedly improved attitude that the US players lined up to take their best shot at Europe's Cup-holders.

On a positive note for the visitors, there was a degree of improvement. Woods broke a seven-match losing streak on the opening day when he and Furyk outlasted a determined Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, one-up. And when lunch came, the US had 1½ points. If that doesn't sound so great, remember they had one half of one point to show for their four fourball matches in 2004 - and only mustered 1½ points in the entire first day in Michigan.

So yesterday had to be viewed with at least some degree of satisfaction by the US. After all, they've seen a lot worse of late.

The pressure for the US team rests on the shoulders of Woods. His Ryder Cup record hasn't come close to matching his dominance in tournament play. As the best player on his team and in the world, Woods is counted on to lead the way. It remains to be seen if he can, but at least we've seen what path he must travel to do it, from a green lily pad to the base of a tree. It's not textbook golf, but if the US finds a way to win, they're going to put it in the playbook for next time.

Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times