A Ryder Cup mentality at WGC-Match Play?

Ian Poulter signs autographs Monday at the Ritz-Carlton Club in Marana, Ariz., site of this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

Ian Poulter signs autographs Monday at the Ritz-Carlton Club in Marana, Ariz., site of this week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

MARANA, Ariz. – So we went to a PGA Tour event and the Ryder Cup broke out.

A bit confounding, perhaps, but follow along.

The Ryder Cup is as contentious as you get in golf, the only time when an “us versus them” attitude permeates. Oh, they shake hands and all when matches are done, but for three days every two years the Ryder Cup is about carrying team honor, not chasing individual glory.

It’s the PGA Tour in the United States versus the European PGA Tour, and it never fails to entertain, to get the spirits fired up, and to make you anxious for the next one.

But good gracious, who expected it here at the Accenture Match Play Championship, set high atop Dove Mountain, where you transition from morning ice to afternoon nice with remarkable speed? Though we have arrived at what seemingly would be the most individual of all PGA Tour pursuits – heck, it’s 1-on-1, mano a mano for five days – what is hard to shake is the feeling that the 12th edition of the Accenture Match Play Championship has taken on a different complexion.

It sure feels like the European momentum that exploded in 2010, what with three members of the tour over there winning major championships – Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer – has gained even more steam and provided incredible amounts of pride. With Europeans ranked first (Lee Westwood), second (Kaymer), sixth (Paul Casey), seventh (Rory McIroy) and ninth (Luke Donald), and both the defending champion of this tournament (Ian Poulter) and the runner-up (Casey) being of European blood, it’s easy to feel the enthusiasm that flows from those standing beneath the blue flag.

But . . .

While they don’t deny that, neither are they prepared to say that a Ryder Cup-like “us versus them” mentality exists this week.

“I’m representing myself,” Kaymer said.

“Antagonism is perceived antagonism,” McDowell said, when asked if there seemed to be ill will between the tours these days. “I think there’s maybe been a little bit of media, perhaps, blowing it up into something it’s not. I don’t think there’s any antagonism there.”

McDowell should be listened to, but it’s been fascinating to see the last two days unfold here at Dove Mountain. It’s surely an inside-golf sort of statistic, but here it goes: Europe 9, U.S. 0. A proverbial landslide, one that had the Little League rules-makers ready to throw down their slaughter rule.

It represents visitors to the media center here at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club – a steady parade of men who are individuals, yes, but proud Europeans. McDowell and McIlroy (Northern Ireland) came in Monday, as did Casey (England), while Tuesday saw Westwood (England), Poulter (England), Kaymer (Germany), Alvaro Quiros (Spain), Henrik Stenson (Sweden) and Matteo Manassero (Italy).

They were hand-delivered to the media center, ready with answers and observations, quick with wit and charm.

“They do it right over there,” said one longtime agent who represents players on both tours.

Hard to argue that point, especially when if you wanted to get an American viewpoint of the proceedings, you had to search the expansive property. In fact, it was an eye-opener to some that when the only American to be included in the pre-tournament interview list was ready to talk, it came not with a visit to the media center, but a dash to the rear of the clubhouse. Special treatment for Tiger Woods is something that seemed to make a few of the European players either smile or shake their heads.

That’s because for years what galvanized European players was a fierce commitment to their cause, to prove that the bigger, richer and glitzier American PGA Tour did not mean that the boys on the other side of the pond couldn’t play. Such a chip on their collective shoulders carried them a long way, too, through major championships of the ’70s and ’80s, then into an unprecedented resurgence that culminated with a magnificent 2010 that had as its exclamation point a Ryder Cup win in Wales.

Oh, the high fives and chest-bumping along the River Usk were understandable, given the drama of last October, but some wonder aloud if they haven’t carried over into 2011.

“You get the sense that they’re getting a little too cocky these days,” said a longtime caddie who has worked for premier American and international players. The agent agreed and wondered if it wouldn’t be wise if commissioners on both sides – Tim Finchem in the U.S., George O’Grady in Europe – short-circuit any animosity and subscribe to a “can’t we all just get along” mentality.

Kaymer suggests that would be the prudent course of action.

“I think we have a good chance to become a world tour,” the German said. “Tim Finchem and George O’Grady . . . I hope they can find a solution for that.”

As much fun as it is to embrace an “us versus them” attitude come Ryder Cup time, Kaymer’s viewpoint is a legitimate one, and you could argue that it’s imperative for the health of pro golf here, there and everywhere that folks realize they’re actually all in this together.

Which is also to say that 64 players will tee it up Wednesday at Dove Mountain – and no team allegiances are in place.

It only feels that way.

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