U.S. Takes Back The Cup

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Sept. 21 --A few days before the 37th Ryder Cup matches began Friday, Boo Weekley described U.S. captain Paul Azinger's mostly inexperienced team that included six Cup rookies as "like getting a new pack of hounds when we were growing up and going deer hunting. You don't know what kind of dogs you've got until you run them, so let's run them and we'll see."

In the past three days of nerve-racking competition, Azinger saw his team transform from truly legitimate underdogs, winless in their past three competitions against Europe, into top dogs once again at Valhalla Golf Club. The Americans prevailed, 16 1/2 -11 1/2 , their largest margin of victory since a nine-point rout in 1981.

Weekley and fellow rookies Anthony Kim and J.B. Holmes scored pivotal early victories in their singles matches, then watched veteran Jim Furyk defeat Spain's Miguel Ángel Jiménez, 2 and 1, when his two-foot putt for par at the 17th hole was conceded by Jiménez. Furyk's win earned the Cup-clinching point and assured that Samuel Ryder's precious gold cup would be back on American soil for the next two years.

Furyk had the opposite experience at The Belfry in 2002, when his opponent that day, Paul McGinley, made a 10-foot putt at the 18th hole to halve the match and clinch the Cup for Europe. "To hear those cheers was a miserable feeling that day," he said. "This is much better."

This also was a far different result from the past two dreary events, when the Americans lost by a record nine points both in 2004 at Oakland Hills outside Detroit and 2006 in Ireland. They also prevailed this week without the No. 1 player in the world on their side for the first time since 1997, though injured Tiger Woods was constantly text messaging words of encouragement to Azinger and his friends on the team all week from his home in Orlando.

"I put my heart and soul in it for two years and my guys put their heart and soul into it for this week," Azinger said afterward, choking up with emotion. "I'm just so proud of them."

Said European Captain Nick Faldo: "Europe has come up short, but the golf was fantastic. The shot-making was unbelievable, and the putting was unbelievable. This particular week [the Americans] have done it, so congratulations. They were just a little better in a few different places."

Thousands of Kentucky residents on the grounds also were terribly proud of native sons Holmes and 48-year-old veteran Kenny Perry. With his match against Denmark's Soren Hansen all square after 15 holes, Holmes won the 16th and 17th for a dramatic 2-and-1 victory, including a wedge shot from the fairway at 17 that stopped three feet from the cup. Moments later, he buried the birdie and won the match, raising his arms in triumph, accompanied by a deafening roar.

Perry, a three-time winner on the tour whose only goal this season was to make this American team, also shrugged off a sore shoulder with a gritty 3-and-2 victory over Sweden's Henrik Stenson. It was one of the five early wins that locked up the Cup for the United States for only the second time in the past seven competitions. With a brilliant putting stroke all day, Perry made seven birdies and said afterward, "I figured this was going to define my career, but you know what, it made my career. It's the greatest experience of my life."

Leading 9-7 after two days of two-man competition, the American team needed 5 1/2 points out of a dozen singles matches to hit their magic number of 14 1/2 . The other half-point that put the Americans over the top came from yet another Cup rookie, captain's choice Hunter Mahan, who sank a dramatic 50-foot putt at the 17th hole to go 1 up on Englishman Paul Casey and assure at least a tie.

Clearly amped up by that stroke and his own howling celebration on the green, Mahan then went to the 18th tee and promptly drove his ball into a pond down the right side of the 547-yard finishing hole.

Mahan salvaged a par but still lost the hole to Casey's two-putt birdie, leaving the match tied after 18 holes. Still, the half-point for that precious draw was equally critical in amassing the first 5 1/2 points, and left Mahan undefeated for the week. He had two wins and three ties and was the leading point scorer for the American side.

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