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The best ever?
Arguably yes - it was certainly one of the most enjoyable, at least from a European perspective. There was so much to enjoy that it seems appropriate, with the benefit and wisdom of hindsight, to record the highs and lows of a remarkable three days at the De Vere Belfry

Everyone will have their own special memories of those 72 hours when collective willpower, masterful tactics and home support stirred the European Ryder Cup team to perform well in excess of their collective world rankings, giving the West Midlands its second earthquake in less than a fortnight. And here at ScottishGolf there are a number of moments we'd like to remember, and myths we want to dispel.

The revelations
For Europe, Lee Westwood justified perplexed cries of 'Slump, what slump?' wherever he went, while Scott Hoch emerged on the American side as not only an excellent player but, dare we say it, a gracious and likeable man.
Niclas Fasth looked as if he'd kill anyone who got in his way and David Toms surpassed even his own reputation as the best foursomes or fourball partner anyone could want, being the highest points scorer, with 3.5, on the US side.

The strong men
Sadly, any analysis of American strength is weakened by their singles performance but over the first two days Mark Calcavecchia and Phil Mickelson played superbly, while rookie Scott Verplank started the final day birdie, birdie, eagle, to leave Lee Westwood hanging on by his fingernails.
For Europe, read Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer.

Great pairings
Phil Mickelson and David Toms were the only pairing strong enough for Curtis Strange to put them out four times, and they were the only pair to stop Europe's banker duo from taking four out of four points over the first two days.
For Europe, read Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer (although Westwood and Garcia were pretty useful).

Biggest disappointments
Tiger Woods, inevitably. He lost twice on the first day (in tandem with Paul Azinger and Mark Calcavecchia respectively) and could only manage a half point against a woefully out of form Jesper Parnevik on Sunday. In addition, the week before he said there were 'a million' reasons why a regular Tour event was more important than the Ryder Cup. If that wasn't enough, he made it clear that he hated the formal dinners that are part of the week, moaned about not being able to practice when he chose, refused to wear the team colours on the final day, or even have a US head cover on his driver.
He proved that he is, quite simply, not a team player and this could be the week when the world of golf started to fall out of love with the Tiger.
For Europe, Westwood and Garcia losing the second day fourballs on the final green.

Biggest surprise
Lee Westwood came out of the blocks like a greyhound with a firecracker tied to his tail and didn't let up. He partnered the ebullient Garcia to three out of four points and then hung on to Scott Verplank, in devastating form, for as long as possible in the singles, refusing to lie down or accept the inevitable.
And yet everyone feared for Lee's safety and sanity in advance of the match as his dreadful slump of the last 18 months took him from inside the world's top-10 to almost outside the top-200.
For America, Scott Hoch belied his image as the man everyone else loves to hate. He epitomised Kipling's adage about meeting triumph and disaster and treating those imposters just the same, as he faced a withering onslaught from Monty on the last day, and was gracious enough to concede that he simply couldn't live with the quality of golf thrown at him.

Unluckiest men
Scott Hoch again. There are three forms of golf played in the Ryder Cup, and Scott was beaten, either alone or with partners, by Colin Montgomerie (and Bernhard Langer) in all three.
He faced Monty first in partnership with Jim Furyk in the Friday fourballs, then in foursomes on Saturday alongside Scott Verplank and then again in the singles. He must have reached the point where he looked at the draw sheet every evening with a glass of arsenic in his hand.

Biggest cliche
That the galleries were partisan but fair.
That's how they're supposed to be. Can we now please stop stating the obvious by suggesting that sin is bad, virtue is good, and fans at sporting events should behave with good manners?

Most courageous putts
The competition is fierce but special mention has to go to David Toms on the 5th green in his singles match against Garcia. Having missed the fairway by a country mile he elected to play from a cart path and just made the green. Problem was, the 50-foot or more uphill putt he still had to negotiate. Garcia, meanwhile, was 18 feet away, licking his lips at the prospect of another hole going his way.
Toms holed, Garcia missed.
On the last day, Darren Clarke bogied the 12th to lose his one-up advantage and on the following green faced a 20-footer for a half - the sort of situation on which matches turn. He rammed it home and the expression on his face showed how important it had been.
Oh, and Paul McGinley holed a useful 10-footer on the 18th on Sunday.

Worst putts
Tiger Woods missed two inside five feet on the Friday but pride of place must go to Phil Mickelson. In his singles match against Phillip Price he had a two-footer for a half that didn't even touch the sides of the hole. It was a shocker and one from which he didn't recover.
In contrast, Padraig Harrington missed two inside four feet in the first four holes of his singles against Mark Calcavecchia. Unlike Mickelson though, he compensated by a succession of superb iron shots and putts, although he was helped by Calc's having a bad day at the office (he was an estimated four over par by the time Harrington put him out of his misery on the 14th).

Greatest shots
Azinger's bunker shot on the final green on the last day has to be a strong contender - it stopped European celebrations (temporarily at least) in their tracks and his frenetic high-fiving response shows how much it meant to him.
Other contenders would be David Toms' recovery from the cart path way wide of the 5th (see above) and Lee Westwood driving the 10th green on the second day.
But the undisputed winner was Phillip Price's recovery from inside the water hazard margin at the 6th hole in his singles against Mickelson. With the ball well above his feet, in a precarious stance and unable to ground his club he hit a miracle big hook to four feet and holed the putt.
A completely rattled Mickelson missed his putt, from shorter distance (see above) and deflated like a punctured balloon.

Worst shots
Jesper Parnevik only played twice but hit a few shockers during those 36 holes. The worst came on the 10th in his singles match against Tiger Woods. Having laid up he hit a short iron so far left it almost went into the water to the side of the green, whereas everyone else was trying to avoid the aqua in front of the putting surface.
In context though, Stewart Cink's chip from the back of the 17th in his match against Thomas Bjorn was more costly. It was straightforward and he had plenty of green to work with but he simply chilli-dipped it, running up a bogey six and losing his match in the process.

Dumbest decision
Day one: Sergio Garcia going for the green at the 10th in the fourballs.
Day two: Sergio Garcia going for the green at the 10th in the fourballs.
Day three: Sergio Garcia going for the green at the 10th in the singles.
The first day he missed (but made four anyway). The second day he made it, as did his partner, Westwood. The third day he made it but found a horrible lie, lost the hole to David Toms, and then the 11th, and the momentum of the match completely swung away from him.
If your fourball partner has already laid up and looks set for a par at worst, it's a good tactic but if you're driving first (or alone) it's not.
He also deserves a kick up the backside for running down the 18th fairway to hug Pierre Fulke once the contest was decided but Fulke and Love still had a match to finish. If the rest of the Europeans had been dumb enough to follow him, it would have made the 17th green shenanigans at Brookline look tame in comparison.
Garcia is awesomely talented and will be the backbone of the European Ryder Cup team for the next decade or more. But he's also a showboater, who would rather go for the glory shot and individual acclaim than do what's best for the team.
He will need a strong captain in future years to give him a metaphorical slap if he insists on acting his shoe size. For the moment, he will be forgiven because of his age but he needs to grow up a bit more quickly.

Most unjustified criticism
Curtis Strange does not deserve to be pilloried with the benefit of hindsight. He took a sane, rational approach to his singles line-up - it was Sam Torrance who didn't. The Scot gambled and it paid off magnificently but that doesn't mean that Strange was wrong. Sometimes tactics don't work in any sport because the other team or person simply plays superbly, and that's what happened here.
The only mistake Strange made was persisting in thinking that Tiger Woods was his cast-iron points winner, despite him having only taken two of a possible four on the first two days. The truth is, in the Ryder Cup Woods isn't a big gun but a pea-shooter and doesn't intimidate anyone.

Biggest hole
The space on the 18th green where Seve Ballesteros should have been standing to cheer, cry, laugh and celebrate with the rest of Europe. The reasons for his absence are unclear but it appears that he feels slighted - possibly at not being handed a personalised, engraved invitation by the King of Spain or somesuch (Seve was always able to pick a fight in an empty room) but whatever the reason, it's a pity he wasn't there.

Oddest statistic
In 12 singles matches the USA won two. Count 'em; that's one plus one.

Greatest teeth
Paul McGinley was never ahead in his singles match and was, in fact, behind in 15 of the 18 holes he played against the gritty Jim Furyk. But to see him you'd have never known it; he grinned his way around the course apparently oblivious to the score and just, as his compatriots would no doubt say, enjoying the craic.
He follows Philip Walton, Eamonn Darcy and Christy O'Connor Jr, to name but three compatriots, in leaving an indelible mark on this event.

Greatest performance
Monty. Who else?

©    30 - SEPTEMBER 2002

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