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All square after a late American rally

Tiger Woods finally gets it going at the Ryder Cup and sends a dagger through Sergio Garcia's heart.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002


SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- Only prestige and pride are at stake. No money, no major-championship trophy.

But the essence of the Ryder Cup was on display Saturday, as it likely will be today. So much for a lack of passion and performance.

After a year's postponement, the Ryder Cup is as good as ever, an 8-8 tie through two days setting up what promises to be a tension-filled singles finale at the Belfry.

"This is amazing, what this atmosphere will bring out of you," U.S. team member David Duval said. "It's hard to describe to anybody who hasn't played. It's different than any major championship. It's amazing to be out there."

No scene reflected the emotions better than Spain's Sergio Garcia hurling his ball into the pond near the 18th green and kicking his golf bag, fuming. Just behind him Americans were on the green celebrating an improbable victory achieved at the European star's expense. Thousands in the grandstands booed.

Unusual in golf, perhaps, but not at the Ryder Cup. Yet even the most partisan of fans had to cheer and appreciate the golf.

There was Tiger Woods making seven birdies, matched by Lee Westwood. There was Colin Montgomerie, a question mark for the Ryder Cup a week ago, winning his third match in four days, again the rock of the European team. There was Duval becoming the first American to drive the 300-yard, par-4 10th green, making birdie that helped turn 3-down into victory.

At the end of the day, when Scott Hoch's putt for par on the 18th slid by the cup and left him with half a point in his match, it was 8-8, with 12 singles matches to be played today. For the first time since the hotly-contested matches at Kiawah Island, S.C., in 1991, it was tied after 16 matches.

"I enjoy this competition thoroughly," said Montgomerie, 39, who has had back problems this year and considered skipping the Ryder Cup. But he is here, with a 3-0-1 record, including two victories Saturday and the Europeans' only afternoon win.

"I enjoy the competition, the camaraderie," Montgomerie said. "We have a great team spirit, and I think that we just have to go for it now. We have to say, okay, 8-all, they're not ahead, and they're a strong team, but we look forward now to winning the singles series. And we haven't done that often. We did it at Oak Hill (in '95) and we did it here in '85. We need to do it again, and we're looking forward to it."

Monty knows his history. The United States typically is stronger in singles. It has had more points than the Europeans in singles in nine of the past 11 Ryder Cups, including three years ago at Brookline, where the Americans staged the biggest final-day rally, winning eight matches and tying another to overcome a 10-6 deficit.

To win outright, either team needs 61/2 points, and both captains went about their strategies in different ways. Europe's Sam Torrance put most of his heavy hitters first, starting with Montgomerie and Garcia. U.S. captain Curtis Strange put his finest at the end, with Phil Mickelson going off 11th and Woods last.

"It was talked about, I'll be honest, about Tiger not even going last," Strange said. "But if the Ryder Cup is on the line, for any team, that's the guy you have to have go last. So he's last. He's No. 12."

Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, got his first Ryder Cup point Saturday morning with Davis Love in foursomes, helping the United States stay within 61/2-51/2. In the afternoon, it was hit the ball, drag Love. Woods made seven birdies and all but kept the duo in the match with Garcia and Westwood. He had two more birdie putts inside 4 feet that weren't necessary, so in essence Woods birdied half the holes.

And the Americans still needed Garcia to botch the 17th green, where he got to the par-5 hole in two but three-putted, missing a 3-footer. At the 18th, all square, Garcia couldn't get up and down for par from the back of the green after chipping too hard, and when Westwood missed a 4-footer for par the United States had a surprising victory.

"I wasn't very happy with the U.S. celebration," Garcia said. "But then again, we're used to it now."

Ah, nothing like a little animosity to stir things up at the Ryder Cup. It was three years ago the Americans ran onto the 17th green at Brookline after Justin Leonard's long birdie putt, a breach of etiquette that still burns.

This was nothing of the sort, but it again pointed to the competitiveness of the Ryder Cup.

"Even this year it's intense, and that's as it should be," Germany's Bernhard Langer said. "It means a lot to us. We don't like to lose. Nobody likes to lose, and it means a lot to everyone out there."

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