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by Jeff Skinner
OK, the tease is over. The Captains have released their first round Ryder Cup pairings for the morning matches. There are some interesting teams which are sure to give us a few dramatic matches.
Ryder Cup Pairings 2010:
Phil Mickelson & Dustin Johnson vs. Lee Westwood & Martin Kaymer. Corey and Monty were thinking alike by sending out some early firepower. Longballers Phil and Dustin will try to overpower two of Europe’s best. If Lee’s leg isn’t an issue he and PGA Champ Martin should give us a great match.
Stewart Cink & Matt Kuchar vs. Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell. The Georgia Tech Boys versus St. Patty’s Boys. Kuch and Cink, Georgia Tech grads, were a natural pairing and Rory and Graeme are just about Saints in Ireland.
Steve Stricker & Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter & Ross Fisher. Strick and Tiger were undefeated in The Presidents Cup and play well together. Tiger isn’t the easiest partner to play with but he and Stricker are fast friends. Monty puts a pair of sturdy Englishmen together to battle them. Poulter is outspoken about wanting to take down Tiger and Fisher doesn’t get the publicity he deserves.
Bubba Watson & Jeff Overton vs. Luke Donald & Padraig Harrington. Cheers to Pavin for putting a pair of rookies out alone on the first day. “Welcome to the Ryder Cup” and the pressure cooker that it is boys. Donald may be the hottest golfer on the European team and if Paddy can’t find his game Donald will surely pull more than his own weight. Watson and Overton are both emotional players, if things go bad early it may be tough to keep their composure.
It looks a like Pavin is trying to get all his players in action over the next two days. Getting the whole team on the course before the last team match shows confidence in your players.
I keep waiting for Monty to put a foot in his mouth but so far he has been almost perfect. The Donald/Harrington pairing is a good bit of strategy. He also showed that he can be a class guy when he had Seve Ballesteros speak to the European team on a conference call. Seve gave them an emotional sendoff and the team was truly inspired by Seve who many call the most important figure in the history of the Ryder Cup. Monty summed it up when talking about Seve and The Ryder Cup, “Seve is our Ryder Cup” he said, very classy Monty.
The Ryder Cup can be a huge stage for great drama. It can also be over by Saturday. Many cup matches have been real snoozers by the time Sunday’s singles matches roll around. But over the years there have been many exciting and memorable Ryder Cup Matches. Here are my top five Ryder Cups all selected for distinct reasons.
5. The 1991 Ryder Cup was billed as the “War on the Shore” and it lived up to its nickname. With the U.S. not winning the Cup since 1983 (two losses and a tie) it appeared that The Europeans had found a secret formula to retain the cup. The U.S. held the early lead but the Euros battled back to within half a point at the start of Sunday’s matches. It was nip and tuck with some memorable collapses coming down the stretch. Mark Calcavecchia blew a four up with four to play lead to settle for a half with Ryder Cup stalwart Colin Montgomerie. Hale Irwin let Bernhard Langer back in his match after a one up lead with two to play and it all came down to a six foot putt by Langer on the eighteenth. When Langer’s putt slid by the right edge the U.S. had finally won back the cup. Bernard Langer was reduced to tears but handled the defeat with as much dignity as anyone could. For one man to bear the burden for his team and a continent is a difficult task. Langer acted like a sportsman.
4. The First Ryder Cup Matches, 1921, 1926 and 1927. There were unofficial matches by U.S. players and Great Britain in ‘21 and ‘26 where they shared a few beverages at a party afterward. It was at these matches that Samuel Ryder, an amateur golfer and seed merchant was so taken with the matches that he took great pains to start an official match. His dream came true in 1927 at The Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. Walter Hagen led the U.S. to victory on the course and in partying off the course. It was a golf exhibition in the true meaning of sportsmanship.
3. The 1999 match at The Country Club in Brookline could have been remembered for those ugly shirts if it wasn’t for Captain Ben Crenshaw’s eerie prediction and Justin Leonard. With his team being soundly beaten and facing a three and a half point deficit going into Sunday’s final matches he still had faith. He left his Saturday press conference when he said, “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about tomorrow. That’s all I’m going to say.” It seems his team were believers also as they went out with a fervor and executed the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. When Leonard’s monster putt fell and all hell broke loose on the 17th green Crenshaw’s faith in his team proved right. His team had comeback when no one thought they had a chance. It was one of the most memorable moment in Ryder Cup history.
2. The 1969 Ryder Cup Match at Royal Birkdale not only was one of the closest matches ever, it also displayed the true spirit that the cup was intended to foster: sportsmanship. Sam Snead had a powerful team but Great Britain & Ireland proved a worthy opponent. 17 of the 32 matches went to the last hole and the teams were tied entering the last day. In a bit of theater that is rarely seen at the Ryder Cup it came down to the last hole of the last match with two of the biggest names of the day. Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin were tied going into the eighteenth. The U.S. needed a tie to retain the cup as the two surveyed their birdie putts on the green. Jacklin’s first putt stopped two feet from the hole and Nicklaus blew his 30 footer four feet past the hole. Nicklaus dropped his putt and as he retrieved his ball from the hole he picked up Jacklin’s marker conceding him the hole and halving the match. “I am sure you would haved holed,” he said, “but I was not prepared to see you miss.” Nicklaus’ gesture the match a draw with the U.S. retaining the cup. Nicklaus said that Snead wasn’t very happy with his decision but Nicklaus thought it was the sporting thing to do. Golf writer Michael Williams described it like this, “Thus ended with one supreme gesture a match that will forever stand as a memorial to all that is best about the Ryder Cup.” He was absolutely right.
1. The 2006 Ryder Cup Matches at The K Club may not be on many Americans lists of great matches. The U.S. was soundly beaten 18 ½ to 9 ½ but it still tops my list. Good competition and emotional stories are what intrigues me. Even though the overall match lacked the thrill of a neck and neck competition the emotion of that weekend outweighed anything in recent memory. Darren Clarke was one of Ian Woosnam’s captain’s picks and is a popular as any player can be in Europe. He was playing in his home country and the circumstances couldn’t have been more emotional. Clarke had just lost his wife to cancer six weeks earlier and was playing with the heaviest of hearts. He was buoyed by his teammates, the fans and even his opponents all week. The sound on the first tee for his introduction was deafening and there were few dry eyes to be found. As fate would have it, on Sunday Clarke stood on the 16th green with a three hole lead over Zach Johnson. Clarke had lagged up to the hole and waited for Johnson to sink his putt. When he missed his birdie he conceded Clarke’s putt which gave Clarke a 3 & 2 win and gave the cup to Europe. To say it was emotional would be an understatement. Clarke let loose the emotion that he played with all week and the fans and everyone surrounding him felt the same. Ian Woosnam hugged his captain’s pick as did U.S. Captain Tom Lehman all with tears on their cheeks. Clarke was worried about his play but was certain he could help his team. He did more than help his mates. His presence solidified the team behind him and their captain and it was a week of a lifetime for Clarke and the Europeans. Even in the most difficult of times good things can still happen to good people. It was Darren Clarke’s week and one few will ever forget.
Under typical Welsh skies, cool and rainy, the 2010 Ryder Cup Teams were back on the course for their practice rounds today. The rain made it a bit challenging but with rain predicted for the weekend it is valuable practice. It looks like the European Team has the apparent lead in the “Loosest Team” competition. They showed up donning “Rory Wigs” and had a good laugh at the rookies’ expense.
Forget the Ryder Cup hysteria and nationalism for a second. Reflect for a second on what makes this match and this game so great: great golf played in the spirit of friendship, sportsmanship and camaraderie. It’s as simple as that or at least it should be.
Cheers to Jim Furyk for toughing it out in the rain at The Tour Championship and winning both the tournament and the FedEx Cup. It’s been a great comeback year for Furyk with three PGA Tour wins. Jim’s total take for the day was $11,350,000, two trophies and he should probably get both the Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year. He doesn’t have too much time to celebrate as he’ll be leading the U.S. over in Wales at The Ryder Cup. Furyk is as well liked on the tour as anyone but I bet he’ll be buying the drinks on the flight over.
The cream is rising to the top at Tour Championship as two of the top ten players in the world share the lead. Jim Furyk, sixth in the world and Luke Donald, ninth in the world are tied at eight under par. There is no truth to the rumor that they are just using this as a tune up for The Ryder Cup.
Leave it to Phil Mickelson to add a little excitement to The Tour Championship. He had not one eagle, but two. After holing out from 115 yards on the par four twelfth hole he followed that with an eleven foot putt for eagle on the par five fifteenth. Two eagles in the opening round, now if he could just hit a few more fairways he may win this thing.
Tiger Woods will be sitting home this week as the PGA Tour concludes its regular season with The Tour Championship. Tiger has only missed one Tour Championship and that was when he was recuperating from his knee surgery. The 30 top FedEx Cup point earners will have to make do without the number one player in the world. The fact that Woods missed the Tour Championship with the dreadful season he had is understandable. The fact that he still is the number one player in the world is not.
Of course we all know that Tiger had a few distractions that caused him to have this horrible season. He played in 12 PGA Tour events and made the cut in 11 of them but the best finishes he could muster were a pair of ties for fourth place at The Masters and The U.S. Open. He did play well in the three playoff events he qualified for T12, T11, and T15, but without a doubt this season was a disaster for him. So how does he still warrant the number one spot in The World Golf? He is living on a huge lead he had built up prior to this year.
The World Golf Rankings use a formula based on the last two years of play and while 2010 was bitter for Woods, 2009 was a bit better. From the World Rankings formula: The World Ranking Points for each player are accumulated over a two year “rolling” period with the points awarded for each event maintained for a 13-week period to place additional emphasis on recent performances – ranking points are then reduced in equal decrements (of 1/92nd of the original amount) for the remaining 91 weeks of the two year Ranking period. Each player is then ranked according to his average points per tournament, which is determined by dividing his total number of points by the tournaments he has played over that two-year period. There is a minimum divisor of 40 tournaments over the two year ranking period and a maximum divisor of a player’s last 60 events.
Woods had amassed a huge lead in World ranking Points. In January of 2008 Woods started the year with 20.7 average points (the main measure in the World Rankings) and Phil Mickelson was in second place with 9.9 points. In 2009 Woods won six times and had 14 top tens on the PGA Tour but his lead over Mickelson slipped. At the end of 2009 Woods had 14.7 points and Phil was in second again with 8.3. Tiger’s lead has been shrinking all season but Mickelson has had a problem overtaking him. Woods currently leads Mickelson 9.22 to 8.66 and Phil could finally pass him this week.
It seems a bit strange that a player that has had such a poor season can still be sitting atop the rankings. The problem here is that the rankings put too much weight on the prior year’s performance. Woods has coasted on his big lead and his last win was over a year ago at The 2009 BMW. It’s too easy to move up the rankings and once you are there it takes too long to move back down the rankings. When Rory McIlroy won his first European Tour event he jumped from 35th place to 16th. That seems like a fairly huge jump for one win.
The powers that be should consider making some changes in the points system to give more weight to the current year’s performance. Granted, Tiger had earned his big lead with his dominant play but his play this year certainly does not warrant a number one ranking. There are three or four candidates for the best golfer in the world right now. I really don’t know who the world number one is but I sure know who it isn’t. It’s definitely not Tiger Woods.