2004: Ryder Cup - Europe thrusts Americans into inescapable hole

Bloomfield Township, Mich.

Hal Sutton walked into the interview room late Sept. 17, sat down, and in his deep, Southern drawl said: “Well, we made history today.”

The U.S. captain was using humor to mask his disappointment and frustration. His team had indeed entered the Ryder Cup record book, albeit for futility. The 3-1 thrashing the Americans took in Friday afternoon foursomes, combined with a half-point performance in morning four-balls, left them with their biggest opening-day deficit in Ryder Cup history, 61⁄2-11⁄2. The previous worst deficit had been 6-2 in 1987 and 1999. (The United States lost in ’87 at Muirfield Village and rallied to win in ’99 at The Country Club.)

“I hate to say this,” Sutton said bluntly, “but if the Americans keep this up, it won’t be long before they are considered the underdog instead of the favorite.”

Sutton sent out Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas first – neither had played in the morning – looking to create a spark. In chilly, gusty wind, the American duo handily defeated Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet, 3 and 2.

But the remaining three U.S. teams failed to follow their lead. Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington won their second consecutive match for Europe against an overmatched Davis Love III-Fred Funk pairing.

European twentysomethings Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald played well together and defeated Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink in the final match of the day.

However, all eyes were on Match 3, pitting Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. The American “Dream Team” had lost in the morning and Sutton felt it necessary to send them out again in alternate shot. Team USA was 3 up after four holes but could not close the deal.

Woods played well but was frequently left in peculiar places by his partner, as Mickelson failed to hit the fairway on Nos. 6, 8, 12, 14 and 18. Standing on the 18th tee all square, Mickelson hit a high, sweeping slice with his 3-wood, 40 yards left, leaving Woods to take an unplayable lie because the ball was so close to a fence (over which was out of bounds). Westwood and Clarke won the 18th with bogey and took the match, 1 up. Mickelson’s streak of winless matches in Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup matches reached nine.

“I’m very proud of my guys,” European captain Bernhard Langer said. “I still didn’t think we would have this good of a start. So I’m thrilled and excited.”

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