Saturday, September 18, 2004
Sutton: It won't be easy to pull off
By Wayne Drehs ESPN.com
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The courtesy Cadillacs sat there in the player parking lot, doors opened, drivers ready, waiting for the Americans to leave the clubhouse, head back to the hotel and try this golf thing another day.
Tiger Woods, shown after missing a chance at a birdie Saturday, said anything could happen Sunday.
The players' moods ran the gamut, from Chad Campbell's zombie-like trance, blocking out anything and everything around him, to Fred Funk laughing with a course volunteer after dropping a candy bar.
There was Phil Mickelson, walking out of the clubhouse with watery eyes, but five minutes later smiling and signing autographs. And then there was captain Hal Sutton, who looked like he'd run the New York Marathon and just when he reached the finish line, found out another wife had filed for divorce.
Nobody knew how to act. And nobody knew what to say. Such is the case when you need 9½ of a possible 12 points on Sunday to win the Cup. Such is the case when it's something that's never been done before.
"Sure it can be done," Mickelson insisted. "Anything can be done. But we've got our work cut out for us. We need to win every match."
One way or another, history could be made Sunday. The Europeans have the chance of handing the Americans the largest defeat in Ryder Cup history (previously an 18½-9½ U.S. victory in 1981 since the current format started in 1979) while the Americans have the chance for the greatest comeback golf's Super Bowl has ever seen.
Talk of the latter brings up one word: Brookline. It was five years ago, in Boston, when the Americans, trailing 10-6 after the second day, roared back by winning the first seven singles matches en route to a 14½-13½ victory.
That year, frazzled captain Ben Crenshaw ended his Saturday media conference by looking at everyone, pointing his finger and saying: "I'm going to leave you with one thought. I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this. That's all I'm going to tell you."
This year, Sutton hardly sounded like a voice of confidence.
"There's very few similarities to be honest," Sutton said. "The Country Club's greens were easier to putt. These are difficult greens to make putts on. You're actually playing off a guy's mistake, trying not to do anything wrong. It won't be easy to pull off."
In '99, Crenshaw unveiled a motivational video that his wife, Julie, helped coordinate in which each player's favorite athletes, musicians, actors, actresses wished them luck. And after that, former President George H.W. Bush addressed the team, reading the letter Colonel William Barret Travis wrote from the Alamo that ended with three simple words: "Victory or Death."
At that point, each player shared what the Ryder Cup meant to them. The night got real emotional, real fast. And it carried over into Sunday. Sutton is one of five individuals -- Mickelson, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk and Davis Love III the others -- who were on both that team and this team.
"I don't know," he said. "I didn't have a grand feeling at this particular time in '99 either. All it takes is one somebody to say the right thing. That night, each conversation got deeper and everybody had their heart touched. Who knows? That same thing may happen tonight."
Yet, Sutton conceded he had no special tricks planned for this Sunday, even teasing one onlooker that he needed a good speech if he knew one.
"Gotta be a good one though," he said. "I mean, we're in a hole here. You gotta bring your best."
Helping the American comeback in '99 was the fact that European captain Mark James backloaded his Sunday lineup, letting the Americans get off to a strong start. 2004 captain Bernhard Langer spread his top players -- Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington -- throughout the Sunday lineup.
The Americans also rallied that year by getting huge early leads. Seven of those eight victories on Sunday were closed out before the 17th hole. The same will be needed on Sunday.
"That and more," Woods said. "We're going to have to obviously get off to a great start tomorrow and just hopefully it snowballs and rolls. You never know. You never know what could happen. We just need to have guys flat-out win matches, period."
One other difference: this time, the Europeans say they're ready. Six Euros -- including the five listed above -- were at Brookline when the Americans made their charge en route to the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. They're planning for the same American roll Sunday.
While their fans were waving flags and singing songs after Saturday's matches, the European players were refusing to celebrate.
"We all think back to that and know this is not a certainty," Paraig Harrington said. "The U.S. will rally. They will make a charge tomorrow. And we need to be ready for that, withstand it and stay focused. If we start thinking it's already over, that's when we're going to run into problems."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.