Uneasy Ryder

October 06, 2002

In a perfect Ryder Cup, a) Sergio Garcia would drink decaf, b)
the home team wouldn't make the rules and c) Curtis Strange
would be given the wrong dates.

But last week's Ryder Cup at the Belfry in The Place Charm
Forgot--Birmingham, England--was anything but perfect.

Start with Captain Strange, who has given more gifts to Europe
than the Marshall Plan. As a player in 1995 he bogeyed the last
three holes when a par on any of them would've kept the Cup in
the U.S. This time he drew up the dumbest starting lineup since
the 1962 Mets, sabotaging an American team that was as heavily
favored as a hurricane over a ladybug.

Strange placed his three guns--Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and
Davis Love (Nos. 1, 2 and 7 in the world)--at the end of his
Sunday singles order.

Meanwhile, Europe captain Sam Torrance brained him by loading his
six best players at the top. Those six won 4 1/2 points, roused
the crowd and inspired the six mediocre Euro golfers playing
behind them to greatness. Woods and Love played matches that
didn't mean anything. They could've been jetting home Sunday
morning.

"We couldn't have handpicked a draw better for us today," said
Euro Jesper Parnevik. "When we saw the draw, everyone knew we
were going to win."

Strange was dumbfounded. "I've never seen somebody front-load
like this," he said.

Uh, hello? Curtis? Loading the front is exactly how Ben Crenshaw
pulled off the Miracle at Brookline in 1999. Trailing by four
points, Crenshaw put his six best players at the top, painted the
leader board red early and shocked the world. Where was Strange
living then, Iceland?

The 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills could also do without Garcia,
the Little Engine that Wouldn't Stop Jumping Up and Down
Annoyingly Until You Wanted to Beat Him Senseless with a
Two-Iron. His 10-meter dives into people's arms got old about two
years ago. Three-foot par putt? Garcia acted as if he'd just
cured cancer. But when he lost a team match on Saturday night, he
was no longer so cute, kicking his bag and his driver over and
over.

"He doesn't win with class," Love's caddie, John Burke, fumed,
"and he doesn't lose with class."

When the Euros wrapped up the Cup, despite Garcia's singles loss
to David Toms, Surge-io was hap-hap-happy again, charging 200
yards down the 18th fairway, jumping into the arms of anybody
who'd catch him and then making imaginary snow angels in the
fairway--all while Love was trying to hit into 18. Love's
opponent, Pierre Fulke, sheepishly offered Love a halve on the
hole, and Love took it, nearly stepping on Garcia's neck as he
left.

"Sergio is Sergio," Love said, teeth clenched, "and that's all
I'm going to say."

Not that Love could've played his shot anyway. About 100 Euros
were dancing, leaping and cartwheeling on the 18th green, pushing
the excessive-celebration envelope. "But we're poor sports when
we do it," Hal Sutton grumbled.

Then there was the Swede, Niclas Fasth, who was slightly more
intense than a bottle of Ephedra. "I wanted to fight him all
day," said Paul Azinger, who tied him by holing a stunning bunker
shot at 18. "He was pumping his fist from the first hole. I told
his caddie, 'What is that crap?' I mean, what's he trying to do,
incite me?"

Finally, is there any competition in the world as stupidly run as
a Ryder Cup? To combat U.S. strengths, Torrance got to set the
speed of the greens (slow), the width of the fairways (he pinched
them at 290 yards) and the length of the holes (he ruined the
greatest match-play hole in the world, the par-4 10th, so the
Americans wouldn't try to drive the green)--everything but the
order of Strange's singles lineup, and Strange wound up doing
that for him. Do the Los Angeles Dodgers get to move the fences
back when they play Barry Bonds?

So, until the U.S. and British PGAs do the right thing and turn
the match setup over to an independent body--say, the PGA of
Australia--may we suggest the following for 2004:

a) Open the fairways wider than the Santa Monica Freeway.

b) Overnight, secretly mow some greens short and only tell U.S.
players.

c) Arm marshals with tranquilizer darts, just in case you-know-who bounces by.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Strange drew up the dumbest starting lineup since the 1962 Mets, sabotaging the American team.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)