U.S. rookies make big contribution at Ryder Cup

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Curtis Strange made good on his promise that everyone on the American side would see action Friday. The U.S. captain was paid back in kind during the afternoon foursomes when his team won two matches, fought back to halve another and trimmed the European lead to one point.

Afterward, Strange was a one-man lobby for Hal Sutton to be his successor as captain. Sutton, who this year has missed 15 cuts in 25 PGA Tour events and failed to post a top-10 finish, teamed with Ryder Cup rookie Scott Verplank for a 2-and-1 victory over Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn in the opening alternate-shot match.

“He (Sutton) went out this morning and did exactly what he was supposed to do,” said Strange. “He didn’t play great . . . But he gutted it out like Hal Sutton does. And we all know he’s been struggling a bit. We all know he’s on the climb back. But to come out here and win a point in a tough format is a lift for the team.”

Nevertheless, Strange benched his friend all day Saturday.

“It’s the toughest thing I have to do,” said Strange.

Somebody has to do it, and Strange picked Sutton partly because “he takes it so well. It’s team first. I will never forget it.”

Sutton, the 1983 PGA Championship winner, was playing in his fourth Ryder Cup, and even sounded like a captain. Asked about Phil Mickelson’s and David Toms’ back-nine rally for a half point against Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer in Saturday’s dusk, he replied: “The comeback they had today meant a lot to the U.S. team in terms of our confidence, but at the same time it told the Europeans that we’re not going to give up, we’re going to fight to the last. And I’m proud of David and Phil for hanging in there and coming back like that.”

No doubt Sutton was taking notes on Stewart Cink, who like Verplank won his Ryder Cup debut. Cink teamed with Jim Furyk for a bogey-free 3-and-2 victory over Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley.

“It would have been tough for any team to beat us,” Cink said. “Harrington and McGinley played pretty well, too. But when you have a team that’s really on, with birdie putt after birdie putt after birdie putt, you can’t compete against it forever.”

Mark Calcavecchia surely must have thought that the Ryder Cup hex on his partner, Tiger Woods, wouldn’t last forever. But it continued through the day as they fell to Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, 2 and 1. Woods acknowledged that short putts he missed at the 11th and 12th holes swung the momentum to Europe.

“That’s the epitome of match play,” said Woods. “That’s exactly what can happen and has happened and will happen again.”

It’s been suggested that Woods, whose Ryder Cup record fell to 3-8-1 after opening day, suffers in these matches because he isn’t a “team player.” His matter-of-fact acceptance of his fate and his use of the word “we” Saturday evening ran counter to that notion.

“I can’t remember the last time we were up after the first day. We’re always trailing,” Woods said. “But I think the great thing about what Curtis did was he got all of us out on the course. We’ve all played a match. And I think that’s very important, to get everyone out there, experience, get the flow and get the feel of playing, and not wait too long. Guys are nervous and anxious and wanted to play.

“And the rookies – not the rookies, but the guys that haven’t had that much (Ryder Cup) experience – they were our backbone today.”

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