Garcia applies steadying influence to march through moments of crisis
Captain's masterly pairing revitalises Westwood's nerve and confidence as world No 1's weakness in matchplay is exposed by Europeans
Saturday 28 September 2002
The sounds of the Ryder Cup make up a sort of bush telegraph that brings good news or bad, according to affiliation; thunderous cheers, groans of disappointment, polite applause; the sounds give you some idea of how things are going elsewhere on the course, form and momentum.
Coming to the 10th tee in yesterday's fourballs, the momentum was with Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods, who had gone one up at the fifth when Westwood coolly stroked in a birdie putt to suggest he was beginning to enjoy himself again after a wretched 12 months that has seen him slip from 20th to 148th in the world rankings.
I set off to follow Garcia and Westwood after consultation with my colleague, Andy Farrell, whose advice I eagerly seek at major golf events. It was in his mind that putting the Spaniard together with the only Englishman in Sam Torrance's team might turn out to be a masterstroke of selection, the beginning of a big relationship; from Seve Ballesteros-Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo-Ian Woosnam to Garcia-Westwood.
Since being sent out as rookie at Brookline three years ago, playing alongside Jesper Parvenik (whose game has dipped so alarmingly that he only made the Ryder Cup match because the teams were left unchanged following last year's postponement), Garcia has become Europe's leading player, ranked fifth in the world and a big favourite on both sides of the Atlantic.
If Torrance's gamble was taken in the belief that Garcia would be a steadying influence, it also had something to with Westwood's insistence that he had not lost his nerve along with some of his confidence. "This week is not so much about how well you play but how well you handle pressure," Westwood had said under interrogation. That was good enough for Torrance. Immediately, he put Garcia and Westwood together on the first morning's team sheet.
Looking at David Duval and Davis Love III, both with a major championship on their records, you couldn't help feeling that Garcia and Westwood would do extremely well to finish all square. However, the first big roar of the day came from around the first green when Garcia sank a par putt to go one up on the Americans, who both looked extremely disgruntled. Garcia and Westwood looked as happy as Larry.
A reserved sort of guy, Westwood does not normally exhibit signs of emotional disturbance, although of late he has looked to be at odds with himself, driving the ball untidly, wrecking otherwise good rounds of golf with acts of self-destruction. As for Garcia, he has only recently phased out the irritating routine of re-gripping the club so many times at address that the patience of even his best friends was being sorely tested.
Despite finding themselves back at all square after the third hole was completed, all seemed to be going well for the European pair and they were soon back in front thanks to Westwood's birdie at the fourth. The way things were shaping up it looked as though as Garcia was content to be the steadying influence, on hand to see Westwood through moments of crisis.
Then came the 10th, the Belfry's signature hole and the subject of contentious discussion when Torrance's announced preference for the back tee made it risky to go directly for a green tucked away between high trees and alongside water.
The 10th has seen many bold efforts, some successful, some not, and Garcia could not resist the temptation. He'd got there with a three wood in practice, but this time his ball plopped into what I guess we can call a pond. One down at the time, it looked as though Duval and Love were about to draw level after both had taken the option of laying up for a safe par. Garcia shrugged, took a drop, knocked the ball on, watched Westwood make bogey and then sank his putt. Huge roar, still one up.
The further it went, the clearer it became that Garcia and Westwood were having fun, enjoying each other's company, playing as though they did not have a care in the world. Coming into his own, Westwood rattled in a nine-footer to win the 12th and followed it up with a birdie at the next to put the Americans three down.
When Westwood dumped his second to the 15th green into a bunker Garcia produced a shot that had "don't worry" written on it from the moment the ball was in flight. Westwood smiled across at his partner, his thumbs up. Garcia's eagle putt wasn't needed. Westwood got up and down from the bunker, made birdie. Match over, 4 and 3, they jumped into a buggy and headed happily for the clubhouse, Westwood clinging to Garcia's shoulders.
There was more, a lot more, to come. Dismissing from his mind all thoughts of resting either man for the afternoon foursomes, Torrance put their names down again only to discover that they would be coming up against Tiger Woods and Mark Calcavecchia.
It did not seem possible that Garcia and Westwood could improve upon the morning's performance but the partnership continued to flourish, both making scores when the circumstances were critical. They walked off the 17th green winner by 2 and 1. The smiles looked permanent. It's how they played. "The best way to handle pressure," Garcia said. The pressure of playing against Woods? "It isn't who you play, but how you play," Garcia added. He had an arm on Westwood's shoulders.
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