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Americans use flat stick to build Ryder lead



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NEWPORT, Wales – The game within the game was always going to decide the 38th Ryder Cup. The team that holes more putts will lift the cup. With two sessions to go, the U.S. team is doing that better than Europe.

The Americans hold a 6-4 advantage, but only because of their prowess with the shortest club in the bag.

For anyone wanting proof of the importance of putting, consider the scene that unfolded at the 17th green in the last foursomes match. Europe looked like it would end the first two sessions tied with the United States at five points apiece until Stewart Cink proved why match play is the purest form of golf.

Cink and partner Matt Kuchar were all square on the 17th green against the Northern Irish duo of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and in danger of losing the hole. McDowell had hit his tee shot to 8 feet while Kuchar had only managed to get the U.S. ball to 30 feet. Then a classic match-play situation came into play.

Cink holed out for birdie and McIlroy missed and suddenly the momentum was back with the Americans. Indeed, if U.S. Captain Corey Pavin needed a player to hole a putt in that situation, then there’s a good chance he would have picked Cink. The 2009 British Open Champion has had the hottest flat stick on the U.S. team over the first two sessions.

“I had the sense that our match was very important,” Cink said. “When you’re the last match you always want to come through and win the last point.”

The giant leaderboards at Celtic Manor swung back and forth between the United States and Europe throughout the foursomes matches. The U.S. team seemed to be cruising early on, then it was Europe’s turn, and in the end the Americans narrowly squeaked out an advantage.

You can hardly slip a piece of paper between these two sides. The biggest margin of victory in the foursomes was a 4-and-3 win by Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker over Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson. Woods/Stricker is Pavin’s strongest pairing. It’s no surprise the U.S. captain called on them to play in the two foursomes matches that run in conjunction with the four-balls in the third session.

Pavin had a different attitude toward Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. He split them up for the third session of four-balls after they lost, 3 and 2, against Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington. It was their second loss in this Ryder Cup.

The Molinari brothers finally made their Ryder Cup debut, but they couldn’t live up to Edoardo’s promise not to lose a point. Poor putting by Francesco did not help. The Italians went out in 40 strokes and did well to take the match down to the last, losing by two holes to Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan.

Rickie Fowler also made his debut and looked good alongside Jim Furyk. They went up against the strong European pairing of Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer and scraped a half point by winning the 18th hole with a birdie.

Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton could not maintain the magic they had shown in the opening four balls. They lost by two holes to the strong pairing of Luke Donald and Ian Poulter.

So the foursomes ended with the U.S. team doubling the one-point lead they had at the start, thanks to better putting. That important aspect of this royal and ancient game will be the deciding factor when the 38th Ryder Cup comes to its denouement.

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