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Thursday, September 16, 2004
Point/Counterpoint: Sutton's gamble

BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich. -- It's a decision Hal Sutton said he made almost two years ago -- Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were going to be partners.

Sutton didn't let the rest of the world in on his little secret until Thursday afternoon, knowing he would be the subject of never-ending second-guessing if the move went wrong.

Guess what, Hal? After an 0-2 day, it's pretty clear that Woods and Phil aren't compatible. But is Sutton to blame?

This decision was argued back and forth, and in the end it was decided we'd both be happy to walk away with a half-point in this match.

Tiger and Phil should be so lucky.

Did Sutton make a bad decision in pairing Tiger and Phil?

Hal Sutton made a monumental blunder by pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in opening-day play at the Ryder Cup.

It's fitting that Oakland Hills Country Club is just outside Detroit since making two guys play together who barely speak to each other is the biggest Motor City mistake since the Edsel -- the king of car flops. Not only did Sutton waste his two most intimidating players by pairing them, but he also put them out in the first match of the day. And when Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington took a 2-up lead over Woods and Mickelson after three holes of the better-ball match it gave the European team the emotional lift they rode to a 3 to morning lead. That lead grew to 6 to 1 in the afternoon alternate-shot competition.

The fact that Woods and Mickelson squandered a 3-up lead in their alternate-shot match against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood and lost 1-down only served to magnify the mistake. In the opening-day match-up of captains, Bernhard Langer waxed Sutton 5 and 4.

The only explanation for Sutton's blunder is that he was so concerned that the American team was not as jacked up as the Europeans that he gambled in an effort to create an early emotional springboard for his side. The exact opposite happened. The crowd was taken out of play so early and to such an extent that at times it seemed as if many among the 40,000 people on hand had started to adopt the underdog Europeans in part because they are just a more fun group of guys.

Sutton has only one choice for Saturday and that is to split up Woods and Mickelson and try to spread around whatever intimidation factor the No. 2 and No. 4 players in the world have left. Keeping the Dream Team together might work out about as well for Sutton here as the Dream Team worked out in the Athens Olympics for another guy with Detroit connections -- Pistons coach Larry Brown.

-- Ron Sirak
Golf World


Until recently, Tiger Woods was the No. 1 golfer in the world for more than five years running. Phil Mickelson is No. 4 and the defending Masters champion. They are easily the sport's most recognizable faces and, between them, are the United States' most formidable players.

So how can you fault Hal Sutton for putting them together?

They are plenty of people more at fault than Sutton:

  • Woods. He may have warmed to the idea of playing with Mickelson, but you wouldn't have known it by watching them play 35 holes together on Friday. Tiger employed the same steely-eyed gaze we're so used to seeing in majors and other tour events, which is fine when he's playing alone, but when he has a partner, he should probably speak to him. When the television broadcast started at 8 a.m., the first image we saw was Colin Montgomerie laughing with Padraig Harrington while Woods and Mickelson stood -- each alone -- at opposite ends of the teebox.

  • Mickelson. He may have been better off digging through the basement and dusting off some old persimmons than play his new Callaway equipment this week. Switching woods is tough enough, but moving from Titleist golfballs to Callaway to Nike in less than two weeks surely had him rethinking some of his actions.

  • Montgomerie, Harrington, Clarke, Westwood. Perhaps blame isn't the right word. OK, you can credit these guys -- they simply outplayed the United States' best on their home turf on Friday.

    Hal Sutton didn't slice any tee shots, mis-club any approaches or push any six-foot putts. He didn't do any of that; he just paired his two best players and watched them lose.

    Is there any more he could have done?

    -- Jason Sobel