James Lawton: Sam Ryder's dream may prove bigger loser than Lehman's underachievers

Woods fought the overwhelming evidence that Europe had more motivation, ambition and interest
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The tears shed in the pale Irish sunshine were real, and so was the stunning nature of the European victory, but when Chris DiMarco, one American superstar who didn't forget how to fight, conceded the final singles match to Lee Westwood on the last green an unavoidable question was forming in the minds of those who care most for the Ryder Cup.

Quite simply, it asked whether the great golf match can survive any more surrenders on the scale of the one made by an American team led by the God-fearing, passionate Republican Tom Lehman and supported, fiercely, if despairingly, by former presidents George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton, and iconic basketball player Michael Jordan.

Another European stroll in the sun at the Valhalla course in Kentucky in two years' time would be America's sixth defeat in seven - surely an unacceptable prospect for an American public who have long been persuaded that they breed the best and most competitive sportsmen in the world and who were told many years ago by the legendary gridiron coach Vince Lombardi: "Winning isn't the important thing - it's the only thing." Yesterday the best the Americans could produce, for a third successive day, was so close to token resistance it would surely have thrown Lombardi into a rage.

The truth, and it is a bitter one for anyone embracing the idea that the Ryder Cup has a format and a tradition that makes it one of the great jewels of the sporting universe, is that the long months of hype, the millions of euros of investment, delivered something rather less than glittering. What was forthcoming was not a serious collision of some of the most talented and best rewarded sportsmen in the world but another day when the blue of Europe covered the scoreboard almost as though it was spilling from a can of paint. It meant that those who believed the humiliation inflicted on the United States in Michigan two years ago would concentrate the collective mind of an American team boasting four major winners - Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, David Toms and Jim Furyk against Europe's one, Jose Maria Olazabal - to make a real contest this time were not so much confounded as embarrassed.

Europe could not have done any more - or any better. The leadership supplied by Ian Woosnam may have been rough and ready but it worked to the point where the American team were never able, not in any phase of the match, to go on to the offensive. They were allowed all the momentum of rush-hour traffic on the M25. They started with a shot into the water, from the Tiger of all people, and they finished with one from DiMarco. In between they were hustled into that surrender. The final score of 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 happened to be precisely the margin that carried Bernhard Langer's team to victory in Detroit, but if the details of this defeat of America are precisely the same, the sense of it is not.

In Detroit Colin Montgomerie, who delivered the first, almost formal victory yesterday, inspired a performance that ambushed Americans led by a Hal Sutton wearing a stetson. Here, Europeans like Westwood, the leading points scorer with four, Sergio Garcia, at least for the first two days, Paul Casey, with consistent and growing brilliance, and no doubt with the greatest emotional force of all, the bereaved Darren Clarke, seemed to be taking it in turns to expose the extremely soft underbelly of invaders who, psychologically at least, seemed to be still rooted in their mansions in Florida and southern California.

Only Stewart Cink, who stopped Garcia dead with an opening burst of five birdies, Scott Verplank and Woods managed to produce wins on a day when the Americans were required to re-produce the astonishing recovery of the team of '99 in Brookline, and it was nowhere enough to stem the spirit and the comradeship of the Europeans. But if the Tiger took the full weight of criticism for the sluggishness of the American start, there was no question about the competitive character that carried him to the respectability of three points won out of a possible five.

It did not begin to match the splendour that Lehman had hoped for as he attempted to talk his team into the belief that they were stronger, more talented, and had greater achievement than their European rivals, but no one could say that Woods had not fought to limit the damage maybe made inevitable by his lack of sympathy for the concept of team golf.

Woods, though, did try to overcome that prejudice ingrained in a youth dominated by his Green Beret father and this was in the face of overwhelming evidence that Europe had more motivation, more ambition, and simply more interest in what was happening around them in Co Kildare.

Inevitably there were moving moments, not least when Clarke, who had played so well and battled his emotions so manfully, embraced his friend Tiger - and then his team-mate Olazabal. Champagne and Guinness was consumed copiously on the clubhouse terrace and Woosnam, bowing to the instincts of much of his lifetime, made an impressively brisk challenge to Clarke's achievement of downing a pint of Black Velvet in around 3.4 seconds. Some of an older Ryder Cup tradition was conjured when Paul McGinley graciously conceded a 20-yard putt to the gritty young Texan J J Henry and no one could complain at the scale of the European celebrations.

In many ways it was a perfect reprise of the Detroit performance... huge in commitment and a bold spirit in every corner of the golf course. Woosnam had brought his team to do some seriously battling.

His wild-card picks Clarke and Westwood had again showed a fine winning edge and if he exaggerated a little when he told his men, "You have made this the greatest week in history", no one could question his right to be proud.

Unfortunately, there was no less validity in the fear that the Ryder Cup, as it has been known for so much glory and the fine balance of true competition, was maybe an even bigger loser than Tom Lehman's team. Valhalla maybe the last chance for Sam Ryder's old and suddenly diminished Cup.

European union: How each player contributed to the home side's glory

Sergio Garcia

4pts: P5 W4 H0 L1

Initially inspired; missed out yesterday on being first European to win all five games.

Lee Westwood

4pts: P5 W3 H2 L0

Fully justified his wild-card pick. Beat DiMarco yesterday despite a high temperature.

Paul Casey

3pts: P4 W2 H2 L0

Holed-in-one to win on Saturday, and beat the world No 3 Jim Furyk in the singles.

Darren Clarke

3pts: P3 W3 H0 L0

Won all three of his games only six weeks after the death of his wife Heather.

Luke Donald

3pts: P3 W3 H0 L0

Made it four wins from four with Sergio Garcia in foursomes.

Jose Maria Olazabal

3pts: P3 W3 H0 L0

Twice partnered Garcia to victory, and beat the world No 2 Phil Mickelson in the singles.

David Howell

2 1/2pts: P3 W2 H1 L0

Might have expected to play more, but was another who finished the week unbeaten.

Colin Montgomerie

2pts: P4 W1 H2 L1

As usual, a tower of strength. Preserved unbeaten record in singles yesterday.

Henrik Stenson

1 1/2pts: P3 W1 H1 L1

Topped qualifying table and might have played more, but sank the Cup-winning putt.

Robert Karlsson

1pt: P3 W0 H2 L1

Deserved at least one win on debut. Halved twice with Casey and then met a revived Woods.

Paul McGinley

1pt: P3 W0 H2 L1

Was worried about his form, but Ian Woosnam had faith in him and he responded.

Padraig Harrington

1/2pt: P5 W0 H1 L4

The only real disappointment but at least halved first-day foursomes with McGinley.

Forlorn in the USA: The American roll of dishonour in detail

Tiger Woods

3pts: P5 W3 L2

Despite being the US's best player, seemed to spend the weekend under a cloud.

Stewart Cink

2 1/2 pts: P5 W1 H3 L1

Captain's pick halved three times then enjoyed a remarkable singles win over Garcia.

Jim Furyk

2pts: P5 W2 H0 L3

His winning start with Woods on Friday stalled, though he did win again on Saturday.

Scott Verplank

2pts: P2 W2 H0 L0

His hole in one at the 14th yesterday suggests Tom Lehman's pick may have been underused.

Zach Johnson

1 1/2 pts: P4 W1 H1 L2

Garnered a point with Verplank in the Americans' only victory on Saturday.

J J Henry

1 1/2 pts: P3 W0 H3 L0

Joined Verplank as the only American to remain unbeaten over the three days.

Chad Campbell

1pt: P3 W0 H2 L1

Halves on Friday and Saturday afternoon were followed by singles defeat to Luke Donald.

Phil Mickelson

1/2pt: P5 W0 H1 L4

The world No 2 will be bitterly disappointed with only a half on Saturday to write home about.

Chris DiMarco

1/2pt: P4 W0 H1 L3

Gained a half with Mickelson, but was otherwise on the receiving end throughout.

Vaughn Taylor

1/2 pt: P2 W0 H1 L1

Unused on Friday, halved on Saturday but lost the decisive game to Stenson yesterday.

David Toms

1/2pt: P4 W0 H1 L3

A half on Friday afternoon with Cink was as good as it got for the world No 16.

Brett Wetterich

0pts: P2 W0 D0 L2

After losing on Friday morning, had to wait until yesterday to lose 5&4 to David Howell.

Comments