Woosnam backs flops to thrive in Ryder Cup

If he was searching for a positive slant, then Ian Woosnam may as well have climbed up to his Jersey roof and rolled off it yesterday. But the Welshman would not be the pocket rocket of fiery resistance he is if he did not rise to his boys' defence after one of the most belittling Open days in the European team's history.

Five in the top 20 does not sound too bad until the identity of these high finishers is ascertained. From them, only Sergio Garcia is likely to make the K Club in September, and even his fifth-placed capitulation to Tiger Woods on Hoylake's front nine hardly sends the confidence soaring. But still the Americans remain the underdogs.

Quite rightly, too, says Woosnam. "If we don't win a major this year it is not important," he said. "The K Club in September will not be anything like Hoylake in July. The courses are totally different and so will the test of golf be. Saying that, it is important for my players to be in form for the match and we have been. At the US Open we were on form and the Americans weren't."

Indeed, at Winged Foot, the Europeans outscored their American rivals in the top-20 head count 8-6 and it may be surprising to some such as Peter Alliss - who labelled the home performance as "atrocious" - that at Hoylake it was 5-5. That is conveniently forgetting, of course, that Tom Lehman's side had three players in the top four.

One of them was, so deservedly, Chris DiMarco and this spelt even more bad news for Europe. Due to the complex American qualification procedure, the gritty New Yorker's runner-up finish saw him perform a massive leap up the standings to sixth, virtually ensuring his inclusion in the Co Kildare tear-up. And Lehman is mighty glad of it.

"What DiMarco brings to the team is invaluable," said the captain about the 37-year-old often referred to as the "soul" of the US team. "Every side needs a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Chris DiMarco has always brought a huge amount of enthusiasm and a lot of emotion. He's a fun guy to be around and he's very passionate about the things he loves." DiMarco is also a good loser as he proved with a quip when Woods was being interviewed at greenside on Sunday night. "Hey Tiger," he said. "When you going to give me a chance? I mean, come on."

In truth, DiMarco has had three chances to win in the last eight majors, but has lost two play-offs and now has a hat-trick of seconds to his name. He could quite reasonably claim to have ousted Colin Montgomerie as at least the current form choice of "the best player never to have won a major".

DiMarco remains unfazed by his latest close call, having just enjoyed the experience. "Tiger said one of the greatest things ever a few years ago, that being in contention in a major is like a drug," he said. "And it is. It is our drug. It's so awesome to be playing well and performing well when everything is on the line."

That last statement should make Garcia blanch. But, interestingly, the 26-year-old, who is heading for the Deutsche Bank Championship in Hamburg this week along with the majority of Woosnam's potential heroes, is philosophical. "That's the way it goes in golf," said the Spaniard, who can boast five top-10 placings in his last six Opens. "With a bit of luck it could have been so different."

It is hard to imagine Woods saying something even remotely similar.

How they match up: The current top 10s in Europe and the US, showing Open finish and world rank

* EUROPE

1 David Howell (Eng) Missed cut 11

2 Colin Montgomerie (Sco) Missed cut 15

3 Jose Maria Olazabal (Sp) 56th 16

4 Henrik Stenson (Swe) 48th 17

5 Luke Donald (Eng) 35th 10

6 Sergio Garcia (Sp) 5th 9

7 Paul Casey (Eng) 71st 31

8 Carl Pettersson (Swe) 8th 23

9 Padraig Harrington (Irl) Missed cut 19

10 Paul Broadhurst (Eng) 26th 47

Ian Woosnam's European team will comprise the top five players from the European points list, the top five from the Ryder Cup world points list, plus two captain's picks.

* UNITED STATES

1 Tiger Woods 1 st 1

2 Phil Mickelson 22nd 2

3 Jim Furyk 4th 4

4 Chad Campbell 65th 20

5 David Toms Did not play 12

6 Chris DiMarco 2nd 13

7 J J Henry Missed cut 69

8 Zach Johnson Missed cut 36

9 Brett Wetterich Missed cut 54

10 Vaughn Taylor 66th 61

Tom Lehman's American team will comprise the top 10 players from the USPGA Tour points list, plus two captain's picks.

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