Who says the U.S. golf stars here won't qualify for a charitable tax deduction this week? They're giving the Ryder Cup to Europe, aren't they?

You get what you pay for. At least that seems the case if you have Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods, David Duval and Mark O'Meara on your team.

Those four men said this summer they wanted to be paid, or given $500,000 tax breaks, to play for their country. They took this stand despite the long American precedent of playing for patriotism and the good of the sport--a tradition that stretched back generations.

Perhaps the four gentlemen, as well as their agents and accountants, got what they deserved Friday. If the golf gods had wanted to make a statement, their enunciation could hardly have been clearer. The European team, an enormous underdog full of rookies and little-knowns, racked up a 6-2 margin that equaled the most lopsided first-day thrashing on record.

Mickelson, Woods and Duval each played in two matches. Woods and Duval--the top two players in the world rankings--even played together in a four-ball match. All in all, they lost 'em all. At least O'Meara escaped the embarrassment. Sort of. Captain Ben Crenshaw, who left the course shaking with emotion, stammering and near tears, benched O'Meara all day.

As sundown approached, the circumstances of the entire day focused themselves pitilessly on our worthies. They were in the cross hairs.

Mickelson, renowned for his soft touch, faced crucial little putts of four and six feet at the 16th and 18th holes. Had he made them both, he and Jim Furyk would have won their match over Europe's Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik. Instead, Mickelson pulled them both right. In fact, his final putt was so meekly struck that it barely even reached the hole.

Woods and Duval ended just as dismally. All square after 16 holes, they appeared stunned when Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland birdied the 17th hole for a 1-up lead. Woods appeared to be in a funk or a pout almost all day, except for one explosion of fist-pumping after he holed a wedge shot to win a hole. The impassive Duval looked like the Golfer From Another Planet.

On the 18th tee, the leg-weary Duval hit his drive so far right that Troy O'Leary might have yelled, "I got it," at Fenway Park. Next, from uncharted territory, Duval sliced an iron, then finished his day by chunking a little wedge shot. Woods drove into the rough, air-mailed the green into a trap, then blasted to 15 feet.

When they desperately needed a birdie to salvage a tie, Woods and Duval played so badly that neither even got to putt on the 18th green. They conceded par to Westwood, picking up their balls and shoving them in their back pockets.

Some will say, with good cause, that the general level of play in this first round was scintillating. One hole was halved with eagles--by Paul Lawrie and Davis Love III. In four-ball, Parnevik and Garcia each won a hole with an eagle. Love sank a clutch 22-foot birdie putt on the 18th green to turn defeat into a four-ball half.

"We had inspired play on our side, all the way through," said Crenshaw afterward. Then Crenshaw announced his Saturday morning foursome pairings. Both Mickelson and Duval, who recently compared the Ryder Cup to an exhibition and a glorified corporate outing, were on the bench.

When the pay-for-play foursome was making its big stink during the PGA Championship in August, Crenshaw said, "It burns the hell out of me to listen to some of their viewpoints." How does he feel now? Throughout the flag-raising Opening Ceremony on Thursday, Woods wore sunglasses and chewed gum. Crenshaw told Steve Pate bluntly to spit out his gum. But he didn't take on Tiger. Now, Crenshaw must also figure out what to do with Duval.

"David is struggling just a little bit with his driver," said the compulsively polite Crenshaw, holding two fingers a millimeter apart.

Is that why Duval missed the final fairway by almost 75 yards?

Unfortunately, the contrast between these two squads is almost total. The Americans have the fancy world rankings--Nos. 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16--while the Europeans must lug along guys who are ranked Nos. 45, 48, 66, 72, 73 and 89. However, the Europeans seem to have everything else on their side.

While Crenshaw seems as out of his depth as Tom Kite did as captain in 1997, European captain Mark James is working on a colossal golf heist. They ought to play the theme song from "The Sting" every time he enters a room. He's got his deadpan, poor-mouth act down pat. And he has team leaders. For example, Jose Maria Olazabal benched himself in the morning matches because he didn't want to sink a teammate who might have to play his wild drives. But, in four-ball, Olazabal sank every clutch putt he faced in a win over Hal Sutton and Jeff Maggert.

Because of its enormous talent superiority, the United States still can win. The Americans trailed 10 1/2-5 1/2 going into Sunday's play in 1997 in Spain, but narrowly lost, 14 1/2-13 1/2. If the United States does make a comeback, the Americans will have to exorcise plenty of ghosts. It's not just the Pay-Me-To-Play crowd that has bad karma.

In Valderrama, the United States had three players who had just won major championships--Woods, Love and Justin Leonard. They went 1-9-3. Guess what? They're at it again. Their mark now stands at 1-11-6. One win in 18 tries. Woods is a chilling 1-5-1 in the kind of match play format he claims he loves.

If nothing else, this day served one purpose. The Ryder Cup gave one heck of a woodshed whipping to the lads who disrespected its traditions.

How much atonement is required? How much embarrassment is enough? How can the U.S. team propitiate the subtle forces in this most psychological of games? Was one day enough?

On the other hand, maybe there's a simpler solution. Perhaps we could just pass the hat and pay Duval, Mickelson, Woods and O'Meara what they're worth in the Ryder Cup. It wouldn't cost much.