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High Price for U.S.

Mickelson's loss to the little-known Englishman, coupled with McGinley's win, result in biggest Ryder Cup gap since '85.

By BOB HARIG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 30, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- He's the best player to never win a major championship, a tough burden to bear. Now Phil Mickelson has another one, and good luck shaking the legacy of Phillip Price, the man he could not beat at the Ryder Cup.

Phillip who? Phillip Price, a 35-year-old journeyman pro from Newport, Wales. Phillip Price, who has two European PGA Tour wins. Phillip Price, who missed the cut in the two major championships he played this year.

Phillip Price, a name Phil Mickelson will never forget.

And neither will the U.S. team.

Sent out by European captain Sam Torrance on Sunday in what was considered a sacrificial singles spot against Mickelson, Price pulled off the weekend's upset.

Moments later, when Ireland's Paul McGinley sank an 8-foot par putt on the 18th green, the Europeans erupted in celebration, assured of enough points for victory.

The final score of 15 1/2 to 12 1/2 was the biggest spread in the series since 1985, when Europe won for the first time in 28 years with Torrance holing the winning putt on the same 18th.

"Out of the shadows come heroes," said Torrance, the chants of celebrating fans echoing throughout the Belfry some two hours after the competition was completed Sunday night. "And that's where Phillip Price and Paul McGinley came. I couldn't be more proud."

Price closed out Mickelson by holing a birdie putt on No. 16 for a 3-and-2 victory that was shocking because of the obvious difference between the players. Mickelson is an established PGA winner with 20 titles and the world's No. 2 ranking. Price barely made the European team when it was determined more than a year ago. And as his world ranking slipped to 119th, he was considered a liability.

But Price might have been tough to beat for anyone on the U.S. team on Sunday. He had five birdies through 16 holes, though Mickelson allowed him to win two on the front nine with bogeys.

"I made so many putts I made it difficult for Phil to gain any momentum," Price said. "I don't think the course suited Phil very much and it suited me right down to the ground. I thought we were about even starting, if I could just control my nerves."

Mickelson never led, and though Price should be commended for taking control, it was Mickelson who lost the fifth and seventh with bogeys and missed a 3-foot birdie that would have halved the hole on the sixth.

"Look at Phillip Price," U.S. captain Curtis Strange said. "He beat Phil Mickelson into the ground."

The match loomed larger than the final score indicated because after the winning half-point was earned for Europe, assuring victory for the first time since 1997, two matches in progress were deemed meaningless and not played to proper conclusion.

Davis Love and Pierre Fulke conceded on the 18th, assuring a tie. And Tiger Woods gave Jesper Parnevik a long par putt on the 18th, giving him a tie and denying Woods a possible victory. Had Woods won, the final score would have been 15-13. Then a Mickelson victory would have meant a 14-14 tie, and the U.S. would have retained the Cup.

"I knew that my match was going to be a critical point and that was because we were losing many of our first matches," Mickelson said. "And that just seemed to put a little more pressure on me and the last few guys to get out to a good start. And when I didn't, it made it very difficult to get back.

"I didn't play well enough to win. It seemed like Price had an answer every time I hit a good shot. He played well. He didn't make a bogey and it was difficult for me to make up ground."

The U.S. team cannot put it all on Mickelson. For the first time since 1995 and third in the past 12 Cups, the Americans lost at singles. Tied 8-8 heading into the final day, the Europeans won 7 1/2 points to 4 1/2. The United States got just two outright victories by David Toms over Sergio Garcia (1-up) and Scott Verplank over Lee Westwood (2 and 1). David Duval halved his match with Darren Clarke, as did Bradenton's Paul Azinger, who gave the Americans hope with a birdie from the bunker at the 18th against Niclas Fasth.

Then the United States needed Furyk to defeat McGinley, who tied him with birdie at the 17th. Both missed the 18th, and McGinley chipped to 8 feet. Furyk, in the bunker where Azinger holed out, almost did the same, his ball stopping inches from the cup.

Then McGinley dropped the 8-foot downhill putt, earning a half-point and assuring the European team the Cup.

"To have the opportunity to hole the putt was magnificent," McGinley said. "And to actually hole it was magnificent. What more can I say?"

Strange was left all but speechless, saying his team got "a European butt-whipping" while still defending his strategy to put most of his top players at the bottom of the lineup.

"You want your couple of guns at the end in case it gets close," Strange said. "And if the match gets close, there's only one guy I want in the last group, and that's Tiger."

Unfortunately for Strange and the Americans, by the time Woods' turn came, it was too late; the European party was in full force.

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