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Thursday, September 16, 2004
Point/Counterpoint: And the winner is...

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- The United States team owns 12 major victories to the European team's zero. The U.S. has more highly-ranked players. The U.S. is a prohibitive favorite on its home soil.

But you know what? None of that matters when it comes time to stick the peg in the ground Friday at Oakland Hills.

You asked the question, we asked the question -- everybody wants to know: Who's going to win the Ryder Cup? The answer is...

The United States!

Or Europe!

Opinions are like sliced tee shots -- everybody's got 'em (at least once in a while). Here's two differing takes on who will take the champagne shower on Sunday.

Who is going to win the Ryder Cup?
United States

The closeness of the competition, the fact that a seemingly superior group of Americans always has so much trouble, is what makes the Ryder Cup great. The unique format, the quirky nature of match play, the inspired play of some never-before-heard-of Euros makes it all so compelling.

But the Americans will win because they have the home-course advantage. Not that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have played Oakland Hills all that many more times than Colin Montgomerie and the European guys. No, the fans, the atmosphere, the pressure will make the difference.

The Ryder Cup has gotten so big, so patriotic, that good shots by the Americans are all but willed closer to the hole. For the first time, players from Europe such as Thomas Levet, Ian Poulter and David Howell will hear their poor efforts cheered. It can be a bit jarring to the system.

And it is important to note that, amazingly, no European has won the U.S. Open since Tony Jacklin in 1970. Oakland Hills is a U.S. Open-type venue if there ever was one, with thick rough and tricky greens. It is not the forte of the European players.

Just like the Americans, the Europeans have five rookies on their side, but not a single major champion. Miguel Angel Jimenez has had a career-year on the European Tour, winning four times. But does that compare to the two victories, including a major, by Phil Mickelson, and his stellar performance in the other majors? Throw in Woods, Jim Furyk, Davis Love III and David Toms, and the U.S. team has a formidable group of major championship winners who have endured the unrelenting pressure seen only in these situations. And they are led by a captain, Hal Sutton, who appears more concerned about earning points than making friends.

It won't be easy -- it never is anymore -- but the Americans will take back the Cup.
-- Bob Harig

Europe will successfully defend the Ryder Cup this week at Oakland Hills for reasons having as much to do with the nature of the format and the weaknesses of the American team as with quality of the European side.

First off, the format. Remember, we are not talking about winning a major championship where a player must perform well over 72 holes of stroke play. Match play is a forgiving format -- a triple bogey is merely one lost hole and not a pile of strokes -- and a bad round one day doesn't impact the results of the next day.

Because of this, clever captaining can hide the weaknesses of the European team. And while the Americans tend to dominate in singles play, the Europeans are more comfortable in the better-ball and alternate shot matches and will build up a large enough lead on Friday and Saturday to survive the expected American rally on Sunday.

Usually, the Americans have the better team on paper and Europe pulls out a win because of crucial points won by unexpected players.

Not so this time around. Both teams have five Ryder Cup rookies and seven players with a total of two appearances. Europe will win this time because its top players will out-perform the top players on the U.S. side. Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Luke Donald, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood are having better years than Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk.

And then there is Colin Montgomerie, who is one of the best Ryder Cup players ever. He will win key points and emerge as the emotional leader of the European team. The U.S. team has no such leader.

Europe wins, 15 to 12.
-- Ron Sirak