U.S. team needs to play like it's 1999

The Americans go into today down 10-6, just like seven years ago, when they won the Ryder Cup after an improbable rally.

Published September 24, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland - Tom Lehman gently pressed his index finger against pursed lips, calculating the best-case scenario for an American team that kept settling for the worst in the Ryder Cup.

And then it got even worse.

Luke Donald crouched to his knees as his 25-foot birdie putt broke toward the 16th hole and disappeared for birdie that gave Europe another point, setting off another roar at The K Club that shattered Lehman's thoughts.

But not his hopes.

When two days of Ryder Cup matches ended late Saturday, Lehman and his American team, down 10-6, were reduced to clinging to memories - 7-year-old snapshots of the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

At Brookline in 1999, the Americans trailed Europe then by the same margin. Then, too, they were led by Lehman, who won the opening singles match as a player that day.

"I know that our team has a chance," said Lehman, now the U.S. captain.

So do the Europeans - a chance to make history with their third consecutive victory, a chance for Sergio Garcia to be the first European to pitch a shutout, a chance to prove once and for all they have a better team.

This weekend, it's the Europeans who are making the memories.

Garcia extended his Ryder Cup unbeaten streak to nine matches, Darren Clarke delivered another storybook finish and Paul Casey showed with one magical shot - a walkoff hole-in-one - just how much everything is going their way.

The Europeans need four points from 12 singles matches today to capture the Cup, and an outright victory would be the first time Europe has won three in a row.

"We're getting closer to our mark," captain Ian Woosnam said. "We've got to get over our hurdle (today)."

The way the first two days have gone, today's singles matches might look like a mere speed bump.

They have won each of the four sessions by the same score (2½-1½) and in the same manner. They post European blue numbers on the board early, then ride the momentum of a team that has never been this strong.

"We don't want to go out there thinking, 'Let's get 4½ points,' because that's not the way to go," Garcia said. "We want to go out there and win the singles, get as many points as we can."

Seven years ago at Brookline, Mass., the United States also trailed 10-6 and faced long odds.

They stacked their best players at the front of the lineup, then staged the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history for a 14½-13½ victory.

"Our team does not feel this is over by any stretch of the imagination," Lehman said. "We know that we have to play our best golf (today). And we think we can do that."

Trouble is, the best players are on the other team.

Garcia teamed with Jose Maria Olazabal for a 3-and-2 victory in fourball over Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, then joined Luke Donald in beating Mickelson and David Toms on the 17th hole in foursomes. Garcia has never trailed in the 66 holes he has played this week, and a victory today would make him the first European to go 5-0 in the Ryder Cup.

The Americans have won only three of the first 12 matches - two by Woods and Furyk, the other by Zach Johnson and Scott Verplank.

"It's imperative we as a team get off to a quick start, just like we did in '99," Woods said. "Hopefully, we can do the same (today).

"The Europeans are playing great. We have to beat them. They're not going to give it to us."

Indeed, all they have to carry them along are memories.

Lehman, however, didn't wag his finger at reporters and say, "I have a good feeling about this," the way Ben Crenshaw did in 1999. Nor does he have the same props in place. President Bush - then the governor of Texas - was at Brookline and delivered an inspirational speech about the Alamo on the eve of the final round.

Garcia has not lost in nine matches, an unbeaten streak that matches Olazabal for the longest in European history. Arnold Palmer holds the Cup record with 12 straight matches without losing. The closest Garcia came Saturday was in the afternoon alternate-shot match, all square until Toms hit into the water on the 15th hole.

Casey used a 4-iron from 213 yards on the 14th hole with he and David Howell already 4 up against Johnson and Stewart Cink. The Irish fans were in a frenzy when the shot landed about 3 feet short of the cup, and they were euphoric when it rolled to the edge and dropped on the last turn.

"It's going to be expensive," Casey said, referring to a tradition of buying drinks for the house.