Sunday, September 19, 2004
Updated: September 22, 3:39 PM ET
Garcia could be best Ryder Cupper ever
By Jason Sobel
How did the U.S. team lose the Ryder Cup? Its players are ranked higher than Europe's, own more major championships and star in many more television commercials.
Oh, that's right -- the Ryder Cup is a team event, not an individual one, and Europe was simply the better team all weekend.
Now that we've got that out of the way, it's time for the Weekly 18 to break the event down into individual awards. Let's see ... we've got MVP, Best Putt and even something the Americans can win -- Worst Decision.
Ryder Cup MVP
Unlike Super Bowls or All-Star games, the Ryder Cup does not name an MVP. If it did, Sergio Garcia would have won going away.
Sure, his other teammates in the Euro Big Five -- Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie -- were all instrumental in the team's success, but Garcia was the most important player of the 24 on either team.
Garcia's 4-0-1 record raised his three-year Ryder Cup total to 10-3-2; that's 11 points in 15 total matches.
This may shock you, but before all is said and done the 24-year-old Spaniard could be considered the best Ryder Cup player ever -- and it might not even be close. As long as he keeps making teams, Sergio could surpass Nick Faldo's event-record 11 total Ryder Cups when he turns 40 years old. If he continues his current pace of .73 points per match, he'll pass Faldo's record of 25 overall Ryder Cup points in his 34th match -- which could happen as early as his 34th birthday.
Hailing from the same country as Ryder stalwart Seve Ballesteros, the comparisons are inevitable but don't quite measure up. While Seve took measures to irritate Americans, getting under the skin of American Paul Azinger on more than one occasion, Garcia simply walks the course with a big smile on his face and charms his way toward points.
Most players are still struggling to make it on tour when they're 24, let alone make Ryder Cup history. Garcia is a special player and will be a force for the U.S. team to contend with for a long, long time.
|Garcia wins this year's MVP Award ... and don't be surprised if he wins many more in future Ryder Cups.|
Most Dwindling Rivalry
The Ryder Cup is a grand international tournament, the greatest of its kind in the sport of golf and third to only the Olympics and soccer's World Cup as far as popularity. That said, the Ryder Cup may never again be a great rivalry. Unlike some players of the 1970s and '80s, today's golfers -- and those of future Cups -- simply won't be that cutthroat partially because golf has become more of a global sport, with many of these men playing an inter-continental schedule. But it's still not their fault. The PGA of America and the European PGA expect the players to dine together, laugh together and party together in the week leading up to the event; they can't expect them to turn off these friendships and become bitter rivals once play begins.
It's tough to beat Garcia's sloping, 50-foot putt for bogey on 18 in Saturday's Foursomes match, but we're going with sentimentality over beauty. The best putt of the week was no more than five feet, but considering it was Colin Montgomerie who notched the inevitable clinching putt for the Europeans, it will always have special meaning for that team. Monty has finally overcome any ill will that U.S. galleries held towards him earlier in his career. Throughout the week, there were hardly any catcalls, jokes or finger-pointing, which is a tribute to fans who could have razzed Monty about his bitter divorce that was finalized last week.
Wasn't it only fitting that Monty made the clinching putt for the European team? Earlier in the week, Tiger cited Jack Nicklaus' record in the majors as being more important and memorable than his record in the Ryder Cup. He's never won a major, but you can bet his legacy as a terrific Ryder Cup player will outlast the memories of his major failures.
Best Group Celebration
The American fans would have gone wild for a win on their home turf, but you've got to wonder whether they would have celebrated with anything more than hearty applause and a few whistles. The few European fans in attendance, however, partied like it was 1999 ... and they were U.S. players in Brookline. Actually, the Euros partied better. Armed with large bottles of champagne (so much for that Oakland Hills no alcohol policy), the European fans joined team members in celebratory songs and dances, bringing a little bit of soccer-fan flavor to Michigan.
|Coming up this week
84 Lumber Classic
Perhaps the U.S. lost the Ryder Cup because many of its players were simply looking ahead to the 84 Lumber Classic. OK, maybe not, but Tiger Woods, Stewart Cink, David Toms, Chris DiMarco and Kenny Perry highlight the field this week. Expect some withdrawal from those guys, so the pick here is a future Ryder Cupper, rookie Zach Johnson. He's played well lately and looks primed to pick up a second PGA Tour before the season's over.
All this Ryder Cup talk has us longing for the days when the U.S. actually won a few matches here and there. Lanny Wadkins knows a thing or two about winning Ryder Cups and the Wake Forest alum should know a thing or two about playing golf in North Carolina. He's the pick, but keep on eye on his brother Bobby, who finished T-2 a year ago.
Long's Drug Challenge
Sure, the Long's Drug Challenge sounds like something Russian weightlifters compete in after the Olympics, but it's an actual LPGA event. If not for a second-round 73, Grace Park would have run away with this event last year. With no Annika in the field, Park's always a solid choice. A darkhorse? Well, we're still waiting for Aree Song to finish a weekend at the top of a leaderboard..
Best Individual Celebration
There were signs of the old Tiger on Sunday at Oakland Hills. The one who lapped the field at Pebble Beach in 2000, not the one who looked perturbed while playing with Mickelson on Friday. After a birdie on 5, Tiger gave a big fist-pump. After hitting his eagle putt on 12, Tiger walked after it, a la the famous putt in the 2000 PGA Championship. He'll only enter four more tournaments this year, but don't be surprised if he posts four top-5 finishes, including two or three wins.
Best Facial Expression
Woods had this one locked up on Friday afternoon. After his Foursomes partner Phil Mickelson drove the ball way, way, way, way left, TV cameras cut to perplexed Woods, who was squinted through the gallery and the trees, trying to catch a glimpse of Phil's ball.
He'll be remembered as a swash-buckling motivator, more SEC football coach than traditional Ryder Cup captain. But when Hal Sutton's tenure as U.S. captain is remembered years from now, he will be remembered for one thing, and one thing alone: His decision to pair Tiger and Phil in two matches on Friday. Prior to the event, Sutton was adamant that he would not let players decide who they were playing with, that he alone would make all those decisions. He would have done well to consult with Woods and Mickelson beforehand. Whether they enjoy each other's company or not is beyond the point, but it was obvious that Tiger and Phil were not comfortable sharing a round together. It's true that players don't need to be compatible off the course to be successful partners, but Sutton should have investigated whether or not they even wanted to play together.
This one goes to Hal Sutton, too. When the U.S. captain asked Chris Riley following his win in Four-ball on Saturday while paired with Tiger Woods if he was ready to go for the afternoon Foursomes, Riley responded that he was too tired and had never played alternate-shot format, so maybe Sutton should go with someone else. You can criticize Riley all you want (and most people did), but Sutton's decision not to force Riley to play was the best one he made. No less a source than Jack Nicklaus recently said that if a player asks out of a match for any reason -- injury, weariness, anything -- a captain must accept the player's wishes and sit him down.
Darren Clarke has never been one to turn down a stogie. Often this weekend he was seen puffing away on the course, even during an ongoing match. But that victory cigar he was enjoying after halving with Davis Love III in singles may have meant a little more. Love actually brought the cigars as a gift for Clarke. The shots of the two men laughing and talking together after their rounds were some of the most poignant memories of sportsmanship from this Ryder Cup.
Most Deserving of Another Chance
With a 2-1-1 record, Ryder Cup rookie Chris DiMarco was the only American to finish with above .500 for the week. After beating Miguel Angel Jimenez, 1 up, in singles, DiMarco said now that he knows what the event is all about, he's even madder about not being named a captain's pick by Curtis Strange in '02. Here's to giving DiMarco another shot at the Cup in '06, even if he has to be a captain's pick. A big football fan, the University of Florida alum knows what it means to be part of a team and was one of the few U.S. players to get the Oakland Hills crowd pumped up.
Through the first two days, Ryder rookie Chad Campbell made one birdie in 32 holes of Four-ball. You got the feeling that if this were a regular stroke play event, he would have shot 79-77 and MC'd before the weekend even started. Then Campbell went out on Sunday and whupped previously undefeated Luke Donald, 5 and 3. Perhaps even a bigger surprise than that was the rumor that during the U.S. team meeting on Saturday night, the normally-stoic Campbell broke down crying with teammates.
Biggest Winner (other than the entire continent of Europe)
The mark of a great major championship golf course -- and the Ryder Cup is, for the most part, a major -- is that it plays tough, but golfers never complain. Shinnecock Hills was deemed fair before the U.S. Open, but the set-up was ridiculed by most players. Whistling Straits was thought to be set up too hard, but played easier than most thought it would. Oakland Hills? It was the perfect venue for this type of event. Players made more bogeys than birdies, but scores under par were there for taking, as long as the putts were rolling right. Not once did any player complain about the course or its set up, which meant the week was all about the golf and not whining about course conditions.
It's been said that the first shot of a Ryder Cup is the hardest one a player will ever have to hit. At 8:10 a.m. ET Friday morning, that point was proven by some of the world's best. Colin Montgomerie pushed a drive into a right bunker and Padraig Harrington pulled his drive into a left bunker, leaving the fairway wide open for Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Instead, Phil went way left, Tiger went way right and the first fairway went untouched for a little while longer.
During Tuesday's practice round, Frenchman Thomas Levet gave the Oakland Hills' gallery something to cheer about. While waiting on one of the greens, Levet held his putter upside-down and balanced a golf ball on the clubhead. Not so hard, you say? Well, Levet then balanced the butt-end of the putter on his chin, while keeping the ball steady on the other end, ensuring a future career as a one-man circus act if his golf career doesn't continue as planned.
Perhaps Ian Poulter's trendiness is starting to catch on. Teammates Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood have both donned bleached blonde locks this year. Now if we could just get Bernhard and Monty to succumb to a Mohawk. Poulter's hair has often been described as looking like a four-inch cut of rough. Alas, with the team wardrobe in play, Poulter could not sport any fancy new duds, like the Union Jack trousers he wore during the opening round of the British Open.
OK, this one actually happened many years ago, but it's one that NBC's Johnny Miller brought up during a telecast. Among the seemingly thousands of souvenirs that could be purchased during the week, only one was actually useful to the patrons. The hand-held periscope, designed by Phil Mickelson's father, was being sold at concession stands throughout the course. Couldn't see over the guy in front of you? Clear vision could be had for a mere $80.
"It's not going to cause us any grief in the morning because he's going to be cheering instead of playing."
--Hal Sutton, upon announcing that Mickelson would not be playing in Saturday morning's Four-ball matches. Sutton was a one-man quote machine all week, but this was, perhaps, his strongest statement.
Information from ESPN.com's wire services is included.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.