tampabay.com

Strong Spanish team emerges

By TIMES WIRES
Published September 23, 2006


STRAFFAN, Ireland - Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal were the most prolific partnership in Ryder Cup history, known as the "Spanish Armada" for going 11-2-2 in team matches.

So when Olazabal and Sergio Garcia won the only match that didn't go 18 holes on Friday, the question was obvious.

Is this the next great Spanish duo in the Ryder Cup?

"I'm running out of years," said the 40-year-old Olazabal, playing his first Ryder Cup since 1999. "We'll see. It was really nice to play with Sergio, and it was beautiful to be part of the team again."

Olazabal and Garcia never have been particularly close, so the pairing was peculiar. But they looked like long-lost brothers at the K Club, walking off greens with arms draped around shoulders, chattering away in Spanish as they helped each other read putts.

FACES IN THE CROWD: He is considered one of the greatest to ever play his sport, and certainly one of the most clutch performers. And he was standing around the tee box at the K Club, never too far from Jim Furyk.

Michael Jordan is becoming a regular visitor at the Ryder Cup.

The former Chicago Bulls star spent most of his day following Tiger Woods, a close friend and kindred spirit. Jordan referred to the Ryder Cup as "like the Olympics" for Woods, although golf's No. 1 player hardly has been part of a Dream Team.

"He tries real hard. He wants to be a great leader. He wants to play well," Jordan said. "People want to make excuses for him not playing well, but he never makes excuses. He values this competition."

Jordan, allowed inside the ropes with a TV pass, picked up Woods as his morning four-ball match made the turn. Woods had struggled, but then made consecutive birdies to stake he and Furyk to a lead they never gave up.

"It doesn't take much to get him going," Jordan said. "He was off to a slow start, but that doesn't stop him. It's hard to break his spirit. He's been there many times."

NERVOUS OPENING: The players weren't the only ones who showed some nerves on the first tee.

Ivor Robson, the baritone Brit who for years has served as the official starter of the British Open, was on the first tee when he cleared his throat and announced the first session of matches as foursomes.

Oops. The first round was four-balls.

"It even got to Ivor," Colin Montgomerie said of the pressure. "That shows you what it felt like."

The pressure also got to Woods. He took a divot with his fairway metal and hooked his opening shot into a pond.

DIVOTS: Playing with Furyk meant Woods had a familiar Ryder Cup face in his group - Mike "Fluff" Cowan, who was Woods' caddie when he made his debut at Valderama in 1997, works for Furyk now. ... Furyk won a four-ball match for the first time in the Ryder Cup. ... Phil Mickelson is 1-6-1 in his last eight matches at the Ryder Cup. ... Among those in the gallery were former President George W. Bush, a regular at Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup matches.