A day that began under storm clouds and heavy rain ended in equally dreary style this evening for the American team at the Ryder Cup. A surging and high-spirited European side continued to make critical shots and hole huge putts, stockpiling crucial points heading into Sunday's singles matches at The Country Club.
Again spurred on by the play of undefeated partners Sergio Garcia of Spain and Jesper Parnevik of Sweden, the Europeans split the four morning alternate-shot matches, then won one and tied two others in the afternoon to take a commanding 10-6 lead into the final round.
The Europeans, the two time-defending champions, need only 14 points to keep the Cup. The Americans need 14 1/2 points to win it back, and now must win eight and tie one more to pull off what would be the greatest comeback in the history of the competition.
Only once has a side scored 8 1/2 points in singles--the 1979 American team accomplished the feat in a 17-11 U.S. rout. No team has ever come back from more than a two-point deficit on the final day to win, and the American players will need a great reversal of form--they have failed to make convincing putts in critical situations for most of the last two days--to turn this competition in their favor.
Still, their captain, Ben Crenshaw, insisted it was possible.
"I've never been so proud of a bunch of guys in all my life who played their hearts out," Crenshaw said, choking up as he spoke. "And they'll continue to play their hearts out. . . . What happened today gives us a lot of confidence, if we just play our game."
The more realistic view probably came from European captain Mark James. "I think it will be very disappointing if we don't win," he said. "A four-point lead is a reasonable lead. We're also under no illusions. We know the Americans will fight back hard. I'll be tucking the boys in with a glass of milk and saying, 'Get a good night's sleep, we have work to do.' "
The Americans worked hard for their only victory this afternoon in best-ball play. Phil Mickelson, who on Friday missed key short putts in losing two matches, and Tom Lehman beat England's Lee Westwood and Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, 2 and 1, for only the fourth U.S. victory in 16 matches. Mickelson changed putters and seemed far more confident with one he hadn't used in nine months.
The team of Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie gave the Europeans their only afternoon victory, a pivotal 2-and-1 triumph over Tiger Woods and Steve Pate, who were winners in the morning alternate-shot round. Woods continued to have putting woes, and has lost three of his four matches in partnered competition this week.
Another crowd of 30,000-plus filled the grounds, and some unruly fans clearly were in a mood to heckle several European players, most notably Montgomerie in his morning round. Later in the day, Europe's Miguel Angel Jimenez, playing with countryman Jose Maria Olazabal, was about to strike a 22-foot putt on the 18th hole for a potential European victory when a fan hooted derisively just as he was about to pull back his putter.
Jimenez stepped away from his ball, composed himself and came back to barely miss, settling for a conceded par and a halve of the match against Hal Sutton and Justin Leonard. The two Americans were both in a front bunker after weak second shots but nevertheless managed to salvage pars with brilliant up-and-down efforts after their golf balls were a foot apart in the sand.
James insisted he had no problems with behavior today, describing the galleries as "frisky, not ill-mannered or anything like that. . . . I've also heard heckling for American players, and with American accents."
The other tie this afternoon came in a taut match between Americans Davis Love III and David Duval, the only rookie on the American team, against Garcia and Parnevik. That tie allowed the odd-couple European pairing to go through the first four doubles matches with a 3-0-1 record, by far the best showing of any twosome in the competition.
The Americans had taken a 1-up lead to the 18th hole, and had a good chance to win outright when Love hit his second shot to within 15 feet of the hole. But he missed the birdie putt, Duval's birdie chip missed hitting the flag by inches, and Garcia won the hole, and a vital tie, when the 19-year-old Spaniard calmly drilled an eight-footer for birdie.
This morning, Jeff Maggert teamed with Sutton to win their second of three matches as a team with a 1-up victory over Montgomerie and Lawrie, that duo's first loss in its opening three matches.
Maggert helped the Americans prevail with some spectacular late heroics, making a 30-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole to give his side a 1-up advantage. Then he hit a magnificent second shot at the 18th to within two feet for a conceded birdie and the match. "The hole just swallowed it up," said Maggert, who sat out the afternoon despite going 2-1 with Sutton.
Montgomerie, often the target of hecklers when he plays in the United States, stepped away from a critical eight-footer to win the sixth hole during his morning match, and was booed. He took a few deep breaths, made the putt to win the hole and turned toward the crowd, pumped his fist and angrily glared back at his tormentors.
Afterward, Montgomerie didn't seem too perturbed, saying, "It was never going to be easy out there. It was probably a little worse than anticipated, coming from an American standpoint and their players geeing up [inciting] the crowd like that. But at the same time, they have home advantage and you know that's to be expected."
Lawrie was not quite so polite.
"Their behavior was just ridiculous," he said. "I don't mind it when we've both played, but to do it before the next opponent hits a shot, then it's just not on. If it means all that much to them, then all the best to them."
Heading into today's final matches at the Ryder Cup, here are the singles records of each of the 24 players:
David Duval First yr.
Jim Furyk 1-0-0
Tom Lehman 2-0-0
Justin Leonard 0-0-1
Davis Love III 2-1-0
Jeff Maggert 1-1-0
Phil Mickelson 2-0-0
Mark O'Meara 1-3-0
Steve Pate 0-0-1
Payne Stewart 2-1-0
Hal Sutton 0-1-1
Tiger Woods 0-1-0
Darren Clarke 0-1-0
Andrew Coltart First yr.
Sergio Garcia First yr.
Padraig Harrington First yr.
Miguel A. Jimenez First yr.
Paul Lawrie First yr.
Colin Montgomerie 2-0-2
Jose Maria Olazabal 1-4-0
Jesper Parnevik 0-1-0
Jarmo Sandelin First yr.
Jean Van De Velde First yr.
Lee Westwood 0-1-0
Recent Cup Results
1997 Europe 14 1/2, U.S. 13 1/2
Valderrama GC, Sotogrande, Spain
1995 Europe 14 1/2, U.S. 13 1/2
Oak Hill CC, Rochester, N.Y.
1993 U.S. 15, Europe 13
The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield, England
1991 U.S. 14 1/2, Europe 13 1/2
The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C.
1989 Europe 14, U.S. 14
The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield, England
1987 Europe 15, U.S. 13
Muirfield Village GC, Dublin, Ohio