Sam Torrance tilts course to his side at Ryder Cup

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Early-week tabloid fodder included Sam Torrance’s decision to play The Belfry’s 10th hole all the way back and Tiger Woods’ dawn-patrol practice round on Thursday.

The 10th was a pivotal hole – and spectator favorite – at three previous Ryder Cups at The Belfry. A forward tee was used in those matches, inviting players to hit 3-wood to the narrow green that’s guarded by a stream in front, in hopes of making eagle or a two-putt birdie.

Thanks to the athleticism of world-class players and advancements in equipment, yesterday’s 3-wood is today’s long iron. Thus the 311-yard 10th has become less risk and more reward from the forward tee.

“The hole you have this week will be equivalent to the hole you had in 1985,” said Torrance, noting that some players would still attempt the 285-yard carry over trees that block a straight approach to the green.

“I think it’s a fantastic hole off the back tee,” he said. “There’s a bigger risk, and that’s how I want it.”

Only Sergio Garcia (three times), David Duval, Jesper Parnevik and Lee Westwood opted to take that risk during competition. Two of the six attempts resulted in birdies.

Paul Azinger was disappointed by the change at the 10th.

“I think it’s a mistake,” he said. “I’ve always felt like No. 10 is the greatest match play hole I’ve ever seen. A lot can happen there, and now we’re relegated to 7-iron, pitching wedge. There’s not a lot of drama in that.”

At 290 to 300 yards, fairways were narrowed to U.S. Open width. In addition, greens were running about 10 on the Stimpmeter, at least a foot slower than typical PGA Tour putting surfaces. Rough around the greens was light, discouraging the flop shot.

The European captain made no apologies for the course setup.

“Of course it’s home advantage,” he said. “I mean, there’s nothing un-toward out there. It’s all perfectly fair. But as far as I can see, I’ve tried to set it up to suit the European players.”

44Early Tiger: What didn’t suit some fans at The Belfry was Woods’ 6 a.m. practice round. Only a smattering of fans were on hand to witness it. U.S. captain Curtis Strange was visibly irritated when reporters pressed him on Woods’ “moral obligation” to paying customers who expected to see him during the posted practice times.

Strange scoffed at the suggestion that Woods was “breaking ranks.” His players were instructed to “prepare like a major champion-ship,” Strange said, and Woods was following his typical routine.

“If somebody is upset, they get upset with me,” said Strange. “I’m sorry if somebody didn’t get to see Tiger play. But they’ll get to see him play the next three days, if he plays.”

44President Bushes involved: Former President George Bush attended the Ryder Cup on Saturday and rode around in his own cart.

Secret Service in tow, Bush accompanied U.S. captain Curtis Strange on the third hole and was introduced to European captain Sam Torrance.

In 1999, soon-to-be President George W. Bush gave a “Remember the Alamo” pep talk to the U.S. team before it rallied from a 4-point deficit. This time, he appeared on a 45-minute video that was shown in the U.S. team room the night before the matches began.

The tape featured messages from family, friends and celebrities, including basketball’s Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. It moved some players to tears, especially the words from family members.

44Return of Jesse James: The European Ryder Cup committee ordered captain Sam Torrance to dismiss 1999 captain Mark James as 2001 vice captain, and Torrance did so. The committee was upset with James’ controversial book about Europe’s loss three years ago at Brookline. But James still came to The Belfry as part of the European team, serving as an assistant to Torrance. Officially, Ian Woosnam was vice captain.

“I never envisioned Mark not being part of the team,” Torrance said. “I always hoped he would be here. I think it was very, very big of him to come after being asked to step down. He swallowed a lot in doing so.”

44Jesper jolted: Jesper Parnevik arrived at The Belfry early, just in time for Britain’s biggest earthquake in years. Jolted in his hotel room, the eccentric Swede was naked when he went out on his balcony afterward.

“My bed was all over the place,” Parnevik said. “It was sliding around the room, and the bedroom table just smacked into the window. I’ve never been in an earthquake before, but it was very, very scary.”

Parnevik said he still has “paranoid” thoughts from Sept. 11, 2001, when he was in New York during the attacks on the World Trade Center.

“So that was my first thought because it (earthquake) was a big bang,” Parnevik said. “I thought I should go outside to see what part of the building was blown away.”

44Short shots: Bernhard Langer, ever the technician, has taken to wearing different types of gloves during competition, a thin one for chipping and a thicker one for every other shot. . . . Langer moved into second place on the Ryder Cup career points list with 24, one behind Nick Faldo. . . . Part of Strange’s reasoning behind pairing Love with Woods in alternate shot, Strange said, was Love’s comfort with playing his partner’s Nike ball. Love is a longtime Titleist staffer.

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