Sunday, September 29, 2002

Passing Strange

Curtis Strange's decision to backload the American team's line-up on the final day of the Ryder Cup Matches will go down in golf history as one of the great bonehead moves. If you had Tiger Woods on your team, would you bat him last? I don't think so. Woods is the master of planting the Footjoy (or the Nike golf shoe, as the case may be) firmly on the throat of one's opponent and never, ever letting up. He must have been amazed when he looked at the line-up card on Saturday night.

Unleashing the big dogs early, as Ben Crenshaw did at Brookline in 1999, would have changed the whole dynamic of Sunday's matches. It would have quieted the Euro crowd, lent confidence to the other US team members as they got into their matches, and put added pressure on the Euro opponents, who, after all, needed to win outright (6.5 to 5.5 in the singles matches) to recapture the Cup.

Sam Torrance unleashed his big dogs early and they delivered. By the late afternoon, Jim Furyk and Davis Love and Tiger Woods were having to work much, much harder than they wanted to. And their opponents were riding the wave of momentum that Monty, Langer and Bjorn had created. Kudos to the European team and to coach Torrance especially. It was a great victory.

Individually, the Ryder Cup is always useful for the OTT (Other Than Tiger) Ratings. Clearly, the big winner was Montgomery, who, prior to Ryder Cup Week, had been iffy due to back problems. He played magnificent golf in each of his five matches, winning four and losing none (one match was halved). Darren Clarke came up big, as did Bernard Langer. On the American side, the big news was the return of David Duval and the emergence of David Toms as the new Nick Price.

Hovering above them all was Tiger, who played golf as well as it can be played on Saturday. "Just put it in the fairway," he said to his foursomes partner Davis Love. Tiger took care of the rest. If you didn't see him play Saturday, get a tape.

On Sunday, Tiger seemed a bit tired and somewhat pissed at his coach's idiotic decision to bat him 12th. He putted the ball (by his standards) poorly and so did not score. On the final hole, with the Cup lost and his match an afterthought, he still tried to ram his birdie putt home on 18. He ran it long and missed the left-to-right slider coming back. Picking up Parnevik's mark, he conceded the hole, thus halving the match. It was great spotsmanship and a gracious acknowledgement of Parnevik's gritty performance.

In Brookline, site of the 1999 Ryder Cup, the civility of the greatest game was coarsened by the behavior of the American team and the American crowd. At the Belfry, it was restored, in no small measure by Tiger handing Parnevik his ball marker and patting his old friend on the back.