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Finally getting 'go,' Ryder Cup steps up to tee

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England - After spending an extra year on the drawing board, the 34th Ryder Cup matches will roll out today, this model outfitted with wall-to-wall security and full stereophonic pressure.

"This is where the fun begins," said Sam Torrance, captain of the European team.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much fun anyone is going to have if he's so nervous he can't swing a club. Davis Love remembers standing over his putt at the 18th hole that would defeat Costantino Rocca, 1-up, in the U.S. team's 15-13 victory in 1993.

"My hands were shaking so badly that I had to back away," Love said. "I literally couldn't do it. I was shaking so bad that I couldn't handle it. I was trying not to miss.

"And then I said, 'It's either going to go in or not go in,' and I calmed down. I got lost in the moment and made the putt."

Expect similar moments to occur almost anywhere on the course for the next three days, now that the Ryder Cup has finally arrived.

Postponed for a year because of last September's terrorist attacks, the Ryder Cup matches are back at The Belfry for the first time since Love's hands shook in those 1993 matches. And nine years later, the U.S. team is in a similar situation as defending champion.

"If we play well and play up to our potential, I feel confident," U.S. captain Curtis Strange said.

While Strange and Torrance and the players from both teams try to maintain a business-as-usual posture, there is an abundance of evidence indicating otherwise.

Clearly, this is not a normal golf tournament.

Ryder Cup Ltd., which runs the event, has adopted unprecedented security measures. Cars are not allowed within miles of the course and fans board row after row of buses to take them from the parking lots to the course.

Once at the course, purses are searched and run through X-ray machines. Fans pass through metal detectors while uniformed guards, carrying semi-automatic rifles, look on.

Cellular telephones, cameras, pagers, ladders, picnic baskets, briefcases, portable televisions, lawn chairs, bicycles, bags, backpacks and carry-alls larger than eight inches square are banned.

The armed guards form a 45-person unit, and there are 24 uniformed guards with the players, as well as undercover officers circulating through the crowd.

"It's a comfort, of course," Torrance said. "Unfortunately, in this day and age, it's a necessity with such a high-class field. It probably wouldn't be something terrorists would look at, but you do have some high-powered people here, so they have to be looked after."

Eight matches will be played today, beginning with four four-ball, or better-ball, matches in the morning. Tiger Woods-Paul Azinger lead off against Darren Clarke-Thomas Bjorn, followed by David Duval-Love against Sergio Garcia-Lee Westwood, Scott Hoch-Jim Furyk against Colin Montgomerie-Bernhard Langer, and Phil Mickelson-David Toms against Padraig Harrington-Niclas Fasth.

Strange has been busy this week reminding his team of the importance of getting off to a quick start. In 1999 at the Country Club at Brookline (Mass.), Europe held a 6-2 lead after the first day, including a 3 1/2 - 1/2 edge in better ball.

The Woods-Azinger pairing was a mild surprise, because Strange had all but guaranteed that Woods would have Mark Calcavecchia as a partner. Strange changed his mind when Calcavecchia told him he was more comfortable in the alternate-shot format, so expect a Woods-Calcavecchia team in the afternoon matches.

Woods said he is ready for the rigors of match play.

"This is a boat race for 18 holes," he said. "That's the most challenging thing about Ryder Cup is that you're in an 18-hole match. And things do happen. And it's a lot of fun."

Woods also said he's growing accustomed to the team format.

"It's a completely different animal," he said. "I'm telling you, 51 weeks out of the year, you're trying to beat these guys' brains in. And now you're together, which is different. And it's really cool."

Beginning today, all the players would be advised to stay cool, because the temperature is about to be turned up, and in a hurry.

Thomas Bonk is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Day 1 pairings

Best-ball matches

3 a.m.: Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger, United States, vs. Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, Europe.

3:15 a.m.: Davis Love III and David Duval, United States, vs. Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, Europe.

3:30 a.m.: Scott Hoch and Jim Furyk, United States, vs. Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie, Europe.

3:45 a.m.: Phil Mickelson and David Toms, United States, vs. Padraig Harrington and Niclas Fasth, Europe.

Ryder Cup teams

Europe

Darren Clarke

Age, country: 34, Northern Ireland.

World ranking: 19.

Ryder Cup record: 3-4-0.

Backspin: One of Europe's strongest players. Biggest career victory came in the Match Play Championship in which he beat Tiger Woods in the 36-hole final.

Thomas Bjorn

Age, country: 31, Denmark.

World ranking: 35.

Ryder Cup record: 1-0-1

Backspin: Slowed by minor injuries, but comes into the Ryder Cup having won (in Germany) for the first time in more than a year.

Padraig Harrington

Age, country: 31, Ireland.

World ranking: 9.

Ryder Cup record: 1-1-1.

Backspin: The European tour's best player this year, with top-10 finishes in the first three majors until suffering back and neck injuries at the PGA Championship.

Colin Montgomerie

Age, country: 39, Scotland.

World ranking: 17.

Ryder Cup record: 12-7-4.

Backspin: Normally one of Europe's most reliable players, he's been devasted by back injuries and thin skin. The back has kept him off tour at times.

Pierre Fulke

Age, country: 31, Sweden.

World ranking: 88.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: Hasn't won in two years. Qualified with good tournaments early in the points race, before the matches were postponed a year.

Lee Westwood

Age, country: 29, England.

World ranking: 148.

Ryder Cup record: 4-6-0.

Backspin: In the biggest tailspin of his career, and the biggest question among players on both teams. As high as No. 4 in the world, he's dropped out of the top 100.

Niclas Fasth

Age, country: 30, Sweden.

World ranking: 32.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: His only victory remains the Madeira Island Open two years ago. Tried playing PGA and European tours in 1998, only to lose his card on both.

Paul McGinley

Age, country: 35, Ireland.

World ranking: 71.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: Another player who was in good form until the matches were postponed. Has rarely contended this year.

Bernhard Langer

Age, country: 44, Germany.

World ranking: 27.

Ryder Cup record: 18-15-5.

Backspin: Joins Nick Faldo and Christy O'Connor Sr. as the only Europeans to play on 10 Ryder Cup teams. Has had 12 partners in his previous nine cups.

Phillip Price

Age, country: 35, Wales.

World ranking: 119.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: Only two victories came in the Portuguese Open. Hasn't played well this year, which is a tough combination - no experience, no confidence.

Sergio Garcia

Age, country: 22, Spain.

World ranking: 5.

Ryder Cup record: 3-1-1.

Backspin: A captain's pick who plays primarily on the PGA Tour, he's fulfilled his potential as one of the best young players in the world. The only player to finish in the top 10 in all four majors this year. Coming off a victory in the Korean Open.

Jesper Parnevik

Age: 37, Sweden.

World ranking: 61.

Ryder Cup record: 4-2-3.

Backspin: Has fallen out of the top 50 in the world rankings as he tries to find a swing - any swing. Loves the atmosphere of the matches, and usually rises to the occasion.

United States

Tiger Woods

Age: 26.

World ranking: 1.

Ryder Cup record: 3-6-1.

Backspin: The only domain he has not conquered, losing to Costantino Rocca in '97 and getting a surprisingly strong fight from Andrew Coltart at Brookline. Driver has been his bane most of the summer, but even his decent golf is better than most players' best. Faces more pressure to win than any other player.

Phil Mickelson

Age: 32.

World ranking: 2.

Ryder Cup record: 6-3-2.

Backspin: Coming off another year without a major win, having performed below par in the last two. Arguably the best Ryder Cup player on the U.S. team. Has never lost a singles match. Very aggressive player who makes many birdies. Figures to do most of his damage in the best-ball format.

David Duval

Age: 30.

World ranking: 12.

Ryder Cup record: 1-2-1.

Backspin: Having the worst season of his career. His only top 10 finish was in the Memorial, in which he closed with a 66. Struggling to keep the ball in the fairway. Doubtful he will play all five matches.

Mark Calcavecchia

Age: 42.

World ranking: 42.

Ryder Cup record: 5-5-1.

Backspin: First Ryder Cup in 11 years, and seems determined to make amends. Another U.S. player who has struggled most of the year, including a 74-74 weekend at the PGA after being tied for the 36-hole lead. Might be even more aggressive than Mickelson, and could wind up playing with Mickelson in the best-ball format.

David Toms

Age: 35.

World ranking: 6.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: Showed his match-play mettle against Mickelson to win the PGA Championship last year by laying up to make par on the last hole. Hasn't won this year, but has given himself five good chances and is the only U.S. player whose world ranking has improved over the last year.

Davis Love III

Age: 38.

World ranking: 7.

Ryder Cup record: 6-8-3.

Backspin: One of only three Americans to have played a Ryder Cup at The Belfry. Good driver and strong in both formats, although his play as been spotty this year. Only four top 10 finishes, and headed toward another winless season.

Scott Hoch

Age: 46.

World ranking: 30.

Ryder Cup record: 2-0-1.

Backspin: Could be a target of the gallery because of his much-publicized disdain for St. Andrews and his propensity for complaining. Thinks the Ryder Cup is overrated, but his play is underrated. Didn't lose in '97 and has a strong head - for match play and the fans. Hand and eyes have given him problems this year.

Jim Furyk

Age: 32.

World ranking: 10.

Ryder Cup record: 2-4-0.

Backspin: Should be one of the rocks on the U.S. team. Keeps the ball in play. Capable of running off a string of birdies. Got off to a slow start this year because of an ear infection, and later because of the birth of his first child.

Hal Sutton

Age: 44.

World ranking: 125.

Ryder Cup record: 6-4-4.

Backspin: The best American at Brookline has become the poster boy at The Belfry for players out of form. Played four rounds in only one major (PGA, although he never broke par), the only time all summer he made a cut. Could be fine with a partner in alternate-shot. Played at The Belfry in 1985.

Stewart Cink

Age: 29.

World ranking: 59.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: Went 4-0-0 at the Presidents, his first team appearance. Hasn't won since 2000, and has played inconsistently this year, dropping out of the top 50. Likely to be paired with Toms. No telling how he will respond to cup pressure.

Scott Verplank

Age: 38.

World ranking: 28.

Ryder Cup record: 0-0-0.

Backspin: A logical captain's choice then and now, even though he hasn't won since the Canadian Open last year. Former U.S. Amateur champion who should do well in match play because he always keeps the ball in play. Plus, he's rarely intimidated.

Paul Azinger

Age: 42.

World ranking: 51.

Ryder Cup record: 5-6-2.

Backspin: The most spirited American in the cup, although this is his first since he was diagnosed with lymphoma at the end of the '93 season. Could be the emotional leader for this team, but he has to earn points. Only two top-10 finishes this year, including Match Play Championship.

- Associated Press

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