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Captains gambling on the lineups

Europe wants to strike early. If it misses, the Americans may take over.

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


SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- Two distinct strategies were employed by the captains heading into today's 12 singles matches, with the Ryder Cup tied at 8.

Europe's Sam Torrance wants a fast start. U.S. captain Curtis Strange wants a strong ending.

Each team needs 61/2 points to win the Cup outright, and Torrance chose to put his strongest players out first.

Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke and Bernhard Langer, the players with the most points on the European team, held the first four slots.

Strange figured it best to save his strongest for last. Jim Furyk, Davis Love, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods anchor the team, with Woods going last.

"He wants to get the spectators involved early," Strange said of Torrance's order. "He wants to get momentum early and hopefully that will feed over into the back end of his field of players.

"We thought that Sam might put a lot of strength up front to get the people involved and get some blue (European colors) on the board. They have put their strength up front.

"I've never seen somebody front-load like this. ... I'm confident, obviously, but you never know."

Strange seemed surprised Torrance put none of his best at the end, where he believes the Ryder Cup may be decided. Torrance wants to have it locked up by then.

Woods plays Jesper Parnevik, Mickelson faces Phillip Price and Love takes on Pierre Fulke. Those three are considered the weakest on the European team.

Torrance is counting on Montgomerie to beat Scott Hoch in the first match, Garcia to beat Davis Toms in the second and Clarke to get past David Duval in the third.

"I really think momentum is a great thing," Torrance said. "From about Match 4 these guys are going to be on the range watching the leaderboard, watching the play, and I think it's really important to get ahead early and just surge to the finish. That was always one of my master plans. That was my reason."

The U.S. team captained by Ben Crenshaw employed a similar strategy three years ago at Brookline. The United States trailed 10-6, making it imperative to get off to a fast start at home. The strategy worked, and the United States won the first six matches to take the lead and prevailed 141/2-131/2. It was the biggest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history.

If the Europeans pull it off, the matches played by Love, Mickelson and Woods might not matter.

"I don't think like that," Strange said. "As a captain I can't allow my team or me to think like that. Sure there's always the possibility. There's endless possibilities. But you do what you think is right."

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