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Sam Ryder's mad legacy
Sam Ryder was an amiable, gentle seed merchant from quiet, rural St Albans who doubtless meant well in 1927 when he presented a trophy for a biannual match between teams of the best in pro-golf from both sides of the Atlantic.

Certainly he could not have envisaged the significance of the legacy he was leaving.

No event in any sport generates anything like the level of excitement that the Ryder Cup generates in golf. Although it was not always so in America, events over the last few years have made US golf sit up and take heed of the Old World and the match has been elevated to the main event of the US sporting calendar. The realisation that the US tour does not exclusively serve the best players in world has come as something of a shock to the US public.

The shock, however, can also be felt on this side of the pond for we are left with confused feelings of new found self-belief and near paranoia of self-doubt. In the US where the mighty $ determines everything, team selection based upon players earnings has hitherto passed unquestioned. In Europe there is a vociferous majority who would eschew team selection based on players' earnings and replace it with good old-fashioned common sense. Interestingly, after the postponement of last year's playing in the wake of the 11th September atrocities while retaining the same teams for this year, much of the US press is inclining to the European view.

No-one should be surprised at this for the US team are carrying more out-of-form lame ducks than we are.

Doom and gloom prevail in the US golfing press. For the first time in the history of the cup, US golfing pundits are not upbeat about their team's chances at the De Vere Belfry. This pessimism is well based for, current form aside, their players' Ryder record is marginally less good than ours.

The US are blooding only three, Verplank, Toms and Cink, while we are fielding four novices, Price, McGinley, Fulke and Fasth. Based on this year's form and numbers, the US greenhorns are arguably ahead. But, of their experienced players, only Sutton, Mickelson and Hoch can be said to be on the credit side of the Ryder balance sheet. Sutton has played 14 matches, halved four and lost four. Mickelson has played 11, won 6, halved 2 and lost 3. Hoch has played 3, won 2 and halved 1. The US debit side of players who have lost more than they have won is impressive.

It is made up of Azinger who has won only 5 out of 14, Duval has won 1 out of 4, Furyk has won 2 out of 6 and Davis Love who has won only 6 matches out of 17 played. But it is the Tiger, surely the talisman of their team, who has the most miserable match play record of them all with only 3 wins out of 10 starts with 6 memorable defeats. This record is certainly a cause for concern.

In the equally experienced group of European hardened men, only Westwood and Clarke are to be found with a Ryder Cup deficit - Westwood having played 10 and lost 6 matches and Clarke having played 7 and lost 4 of them. Parnevick and Garcia have contributed well in the past. Garcia has played 5 and won 3, while, although the dandy Dane has played 9 and won only 4, he has only lost twice. Harrington is in marginal credit, having played three times, lost and won once and halved the other. Bjorn has a marginal deficit with two starts, one loss and one halved match.

It is with the old guard that Europe has real anchormen. The US has nothing to compare with Langer and Montgomerie. Langer has played 38 matches, won 18 of them and lost 15. Montgomerie is even better with 23 matches played, 12 of them won with only 7 lost.

Langer has played consistently well in Europe this summer and can be expected, even as the oldest man in the field at 45 to keep his end up.

Montgomerie can also be expected to make more than a mere contribution. Little heed should be paid to his aches and pains. Monty is a dramatist of the first order. Without a major to his name, Monty's Ryder Cup record is important to him, as doubtless Curtis Strange will be aware.

Monty will be at the De Vere Belfry with all guns firing - as will Harrington, albeit babbling madly about this or that side of his neck or one or other of his ankles, unless, of course, he can find something else to satisfy his hypochondria.

Despite the unassailable fact, based both on current form and past experience, the balance sheet reads in Europe's favour the bookies do not altogether share my optimism that Europe will triumph. Odds in shops vary, but no one is going to get rich on the US win at 4 to 7. But one could get an earner out of Woods. Doubtless with an eye to his past record, the bookies feel complacent offering 11 to 4 on Woods as the US leading point's earner.

But the Tiger has grown up a bit of late and has something at stake here apart from his reputation. Having achieved what he has for himself, I suspect that the lad will want to be seen to be doing what he can for the war effort on the battlefield of the De Vere Belfry. I suspect, too, that he will do it. Bjorn, Westwood and Clarke have all beaten Woods, but so too have a host of others - many of whom have had to find an alternative source of support.

If injured animals, like Harrington and Montgomerie, are at their most dangerous when injured, they are as nothing compared to a Tiger when hungry. It is all madness, but I will have a bob or two on the Tiger for sure.

©    16 - SEPTEMBER 2002

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