In The Rough

Singles matches slated for Monday

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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NEWPORT, Wales -- The Ryder Cup resumed Sunday after another long rain delay.

An imposing three points separates Team USA from losing its four-day custody battle with the Ryder Cup. The Europeans lead 9½-6½, and act, talk and walk like they're going to be spraying champagne on each other late Monday afternoon from a Celtic Manor balcony. Can you blame them?

They have the home-course, home-crowd and home-rain advantage. They have an impressive lead. They have a captain with a beating pulse.

But they don't have a Woods.

The Europeans trailed after the first and second sessions. But in the six-match third session, which stretched over Saturday and Sunday, they ole, ole, ole, ole-d the Americans into a red-white-and-blue mess. They were mostly spectacular, turning a 2-point deficit into a cluster migraine for Team USA. If there was a putt that needed to be made, the Europeans made it.

So now it comes down to Monday and the 12 singles matches. And in many ways, it comes down to Woods.

He is a captain's pick, a first for him. But make no mistake: He was the first player that the Europeans searched for when the singles draw was released. The results of his match -- he'll tee off eighth, against Italy's Francesco Molinari -- also could be one of the most closely watched of the 12.

There's no way around it. This has been the worst year of Woods' life, both personally and professionally. He lost a marriage and lost a golf swing. And both happened in full view of the world.

Woods, clueless or helpless for much of 2010, hasn't won a tournament this season. He has exactly two top-10 finishes. He suffered through a career-worst 72-hole performance at the Bridgestone. He changed coaches.

On Sunday he made a four-hole, 45-minute cameo appearance during foursomes play. He and partner Steve Stricker were taken to a Wales woodshed by Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. The 6 and 5 loss was a Ryder Cup worst for Woods.

Monday's singles match becomes Woods' fifth major. It is his last chance to extract something memorable -- positively memorable -- out of a difficult and humbling year.

Won't happen, you say? His swing is in more pieces than a box of LEGOs? He's the world's No. 1 in name and number only?

But Woods doesn't have to win a 72-hole tournament, just an 18-hole match against winless Ryder Cup rookie Molinari -- and maybe even not 18 holes if he plays well enough. He has to be the Woods we remember for only four or so hours, not four days.

Despite the disastrous, almost laughable blowout loss against Westwood and Donald, Woods still is 2-1 in this Ryder Cup. And in career singles play he's 3-1-1.

The final six team matches were back on the water-logged course Sunday at Celtic Manor, with Europe leading in all six. They were suspended the previous evening because of darkness.

This is the second suspension at the Ryder Cup and ensures the first Monday finish in its 8-year history.

There was a delay of 7 hours, 18 minutes the first day because of heavy rain. Another round of torrential showers overnight pushed back the start of play Sunday another 5 hours, 45 minutes.

The 12 singles matches will be held Monday beginning at 9:05 a.m. local time (4:05 a.m. ET)

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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United States leads by two as night falls, but Europe threatens a big comeback

NEWPORT, Wales (AP) -- The United States has the lead. Europe has the momentum.
In what could prove to be a crucial two hours Saturday afternoon, Europe played itself right back into the Ryder Cup. But the U.S. still has the most points, and many of the on-course matches remain close.

24 players managed to grind through an odd mix Saturday: finishing fourball matches, playing entire alternate-shot matches, then getting started on an odd session that included both kinds of matches.

When play was called because of darkness, the United States had a 6-4 lead. But Europe was ahead in all six matches that got started late in the afternoon, marked by blue on the scoreboard and giving the home team an undeniable surge of confidence going into another marathon Sunday.

"Momentum is the key in these matches," Captain Colin Montgomerie said.

In that case, advantage Europe.

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald were an astonishing 4 up through nine holes on Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker -- that after the Americans won their first two matches to remain unbeaten as partners in team events. Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy were 3 up through seven holes on Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan, and had marked a short putt that gave the Europeans a chance to extend their advantage when play resumed.

The margins were smaller in the other four matches, but Europe was ahead in all of them.

"That was a very important two hours of play, and we came through it with flying colors," Montgomerie said. "We want to have six blue numbers shining on the board tomorrow morning, and we want them to stay there."

But, as the Americans were quick to point out, they're actually the guys with the most points. No one in the third session had played more than nine holes, and the margin in all the fourball matches was either one or two holes.

"It's very close," U.S. Captain Corey Pavin said. "The third session is going pretty nicely for Europe. We've just got to go back, rest up tonight and fire at 'em tomorrow."

There's still plenty of golf to be played -- and that doesn't even include the 12 singles matches that officials also hope to get in Sunday after cobbling a rain-plagued schedule in hopes of avoiding the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history.

"I've never seen points given for matches where you've played four, five, six, seven holes," Pavin said. "We're going to try to come back and turn the momentum back in our favor."

Still, he wasn't sad to see the sun sink behind the Welsh hills and call it a day.

"Obviously the team wasn't off to a good start," Pavin said. "It wasn't a bad thing that it got dark."

As the Europeans already have shown, things can turn around quickly -- very quickly -- in match play.

The U.S. appeared to have all the momentum when Woods and Stricker won their second straight match in a rout, McIlroy hit two poor shots that gave a point to Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, and the new pairing of Jim Furyk and 21-year-old Rickie Fowler stole a half-point from top-ranked European Lee Westwood and PGA Champion Martin Kaymer.

Montgomerie implored his players to make a strong start and get the crowd involved. They did just that: Donald and Westwood birdied the first two holes against Woods and Stricker; Kaymer and Ian Poulter won the first two holes against struggling Phil Mickelson and his new partner, Fowler; Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez won their first hole; so did McDowell and McIlroy.

Cink and Kuchar were the only Americans to actually lead a match, making birdie at No. 1, but Italian brothers Francesco and Edoardo Molinari birdied the next two to erase that lone patch of U.S. red from the board. Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher also were leading for the Europeans.

What a change from the American outlook just a couple of hours earlier, spurred by Woods winning his first two Ryder Cup matches for the first time ever.

He and Stricker came out on a chilly morning to finish off a 2-up win over Fisher and Poulter in fourballs. After a quick break, it was right back to the first tee for an alternate-shot match with Jimenez and Hanson that was no contest. With Woods hitting pinpoint irons and Stricker making all the putts, the Americans romped to a 4-and-3 win.

The Americans also got plenty of key shots out of their Georgia Tech pairing. Cink and Kuchar squandered a lead in fourballs but held on for a half-point against McIlroy and McDowell.

The teams faced off again in alternate shot, and McIlroy's game collapsed over the final two holes. First, the 21-year-old player missed a 6-foot putt after Cink had holed a 30-foot birdie. Then, with an easy wedge over the water at 18, McIlroy watched his ball slide off the green into a back bunker, ensuring the U.S. an outright win.

Woods and Stricker were the only players to earn maximum points over the first two rounds, a heartening development for an American team trying to successfully defend the Cup for the first time since 1993.

In a sport individual at its core, Woods has struggled to find a partner he could be comfortable with in this team setting. He's been paired with 11 other players in the Ryder Cup, including that ill-fated attempt at teaming with Mickelson in 2004, but all it produced was a 7-12-1 mark -- the major blemish on Woods' career record.

Then, at last year's Presidents Cup, Woods and Stricker were paired. They won all four of their matches, the first team in 30 years to do that in a major competition.

Woods had finally found his man.

"His stroke is so good," Woods said of his new BFF. "It's fun to watch him. He's got that 'go-in' look."

The world's top-ranked player was hoping to help the Americans keep the trophy they won without him at Valhalla two years ago, when he was recovering from knee surgery. Woods also hoped to take some of the sting out of a miserable year.

His marriage and reputation crumbled with the revelation of numerous affairs, and he returned from a five-month layoff without his usual dominance on the course. Woods went winless in the majors this year -- even failing to win a tournament of any kind -- and is in danger of losing his No. 1 ranking.

"We're comfortable around one another. Our games complement each other nicely," Stricker said. "He hit some unbelievable iron shots and, fortunately, I've been hitting some putts."

But nothing went right for the Americans in their third match of the day.

They took bogeys at the first and fourth holes, a double-bogey at the sixth, another bogey at the seventh and suddenly faced an astonishing five-hole deficit. They did provide a glimmer of hope with their first birdie, Stricker knocking in a putt at No. 9 just before play was called, but they've got a ton of work to do if they want to remain unbeaten as a team.

"That was a superb session from the moment we set off," Montgomerie said. "We started winning at the first hole." Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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"I think there's a tremendous amount of pressure on Tiger"

NEWPORT, Wales -- From the moment he first appeared in a Ryder Cup arena, there has been pressure on Tiger Woods to perform, a sort of he-can-never-do-enough mentality that has dogged him throughout five appearances with limited success.


Corey Pavin's U.S. team will face the European squad Oct. 1-3 at Celtic Manor in Wales. 12-man roster:
Player Ryder Cup record
Stewart Cink 4-7-4
Rickie Fowler First Ryder Cup
Jim Furyk 8-13-3
Dustin Johnson First Ryder Cup
Zach Johnson 1-2-1
Matt Kuchar First Ryder Cup
Hunter Mahan 2-0-3
Phil Mickelson 10-14-6
Jeff Overton First Ryder Cup
Steve Stricker 0-2-1
Bubba Watson First Ryder Cup
Tiger Woods 10-13-2

It was 13 years ago that Woods stepped to the first tee in Spain, already a major champion at age 21 and golf's biggest star. He was paired with his good friend Mark O'Meara, and time has not dulled the memory.

"I can remember my first shot," he said. "I hit first and used a 2-iron. I was very nervous. It was my first Ryder Cup and I was playing not just for me, but representing my country and teammates, too. It's a different type of nervousness than a major."

Woods and O'Meara went on to win that match (3 and 2 over Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer), but it was a losing week overall for Woods, who went 1-3-1 and fell to Italy's Costantino Rocca in singles as the United States lost by a single point, 14½ to 13½.

The game's No. 1 player has been on just one winning U.S. team (1999) and has never been part of an overseas victory. His 10-13-2 overall record is often criticized and sometimes used as evidence that he is indifferent toward the biennial team competition that will take place when the 38th Ryder Cup begins Friday at Celtic Manor.

This time, Woods had to rely on a pick from U.S. captain Corey Pavin to be part of the 12-man team. For the first time, Woods did not lead the Americans in points (he even led in 2008 when he was injured and could not play after knee surgery in June). And he has endured a tumultuous season that has seen him go winless so far, with just two top-10s.

The spotlight is always on Woods, but this time it might be even brighter, especially in a team setting.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of pressure on Tiger," NBC analyst Gary Koch said. "He went to Corey and said he wanted to be part of this team. I think he realizes this is a great opportunity to get things headed in the right direction, so there's a lot for him to prove this time around."

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Woods is trying to rework his swing under the direction of Sean Foley. They began working together early last month at the PGA Championship, after Woods was coming off his worst 72-hole performance as a pro at the Bridgestone Invitational, and there has been steady progress.

But Woods has not finished in the top-10 in the four tournaments since he began working in earnest with Foley, and he failed to qualify for last week's Tour Championship. Typically, swing changes are a work in progress, with difficulties along the way.

"We have a big picture in place," said Foley, who planned to work with Woods this past weekend before the golfer joined the team for its trip to Celtic Manor. "We have a direction, and we'll stick to that direction.

"If Tiger hadn't met me, or anybody else for that matter, and he was to go over there as one of the best players ever, he could probably still go 5-0. … We set a plan in place at the PGA Championship, and we're going to stick with that until it happens."

The fact that Woods has never had anything close to a perfect record at the Ryder Cup (3-2 in 2006 is his best mark) remains fodder for his critics, however.

So does the comment he made at the 2002 American Express Championship in Ireland. The World Golf Championship event was played the week before the Ryder Cup at The Belfry, and Woods was asked whether, if he had to choose, he would rather win the stroke-play tournament or the Ryder Cup.

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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Jim Furyk has $10M bunker save for win

Furyk reached out his right hand and gently tapped the silver cup, which might be more valuable than the $10 million that comes with it.

Clinging to a one-shot lead, in a bunker so deep he could only see the top of the lip, Furyk hit a clean shot and watched it head for the flag. It landed inches from the cup and spun to a stop 2½ feet away for an easy par and a one-shot victory over Luke Donald.

He put his name on a trophy with Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh. He finally won the Tour Championship, giving him three victories in a season for the first time in his career. He stated a strong case -- three victories and FedEx Cup champion -- as PGA Tour player of the year.

Maybe that explains why his stoic demeanor gave way to a celebration never before seen out of Furyk.

"It just hit me," said Furyk, who closed with an even-par 70. "I was excited and dropped the putter and ... I don't know. I guess at that moment, you're not really responsible for what happens next."

He thrust his fist toward the grandstand with such force that it looked like he heaved his golf ball into the crowd. And he shared a hug with his wife, Tabitha, asking her, "Did I win the bonus?"

Turns out he joins Woods as the only FedEx Cup champions to miss the first playoff event -- Woods in 2007 because he didn't want to play, Furyk this year because he couldn't.

He still ranks the U.S. Open as his biggest win, although this was a close second.

"It's only 4 years old," he said of the FedEx Cup. "But 40 years from now, there should be a lot of history in this trophy. And to have 'Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk' ... I'm very proud of that, because those two can flat play -- two of the most dominant players of my era, for sure."

This Sunday was so bizarre that Kuchar, who shot 71 and tied for 25th in a 30-man field, still had a chance to win the FedEx Cup. He wound up second for a $3 million bonus. Donald moved up to third in the standings and picked up an extra $2 million.

Retief Goosen also had a chance at both trophies until a bogey on the 17th. He shot a 71 and finished alone in third at the Tour Championship. Watney (67) and Casey (69) tied for fourth.

The celebration was dampened by a two-hour rain delay that sent most of the fans home from East Lake. For those who stayed, it was tough to applaud with one hand on the umbrella as the rain pounded the players over the final hour of competition.

Even so, a FedEx Cup finale has never had so many possibilities, so much movement.

Watney wasn't even a remote candidate when he went into the weekend tied for 25th in the 30-man field, 13 shots out of the lead. Then came a 63 in the third round, and he kept right on going. Watney shot a 28 on the back nine Saturday, then had a 30 on the front nine Sunday to pull within one shot of the lead.

Watney could have won the FedEx Cup with a victory at East Lake, provided Kuchar did not finish alone in 25th. Kuchar missed a 7-foot par putt on the final hole.

That became irrelevant when Watney failed to birdie the par-5 15th and made his first bogey of the round on the 16th.

Even when Furyk had a three-shot lead after his birdie on the 15th, the FedEx Cup remained in doubt.

Casey, who has not won a tournament all year, could have claimed the $10 million bonus by finishing alone in second place. Casey was at 6 under -- one shot behind Goosen in second -- when he hit his approach toward the corporate tents on the 17th. After a free drop, he hit a wedge to just outside 5 feet and badly missed the putt.

Furyk has no time to celebrate. He was to join his teammates on a charter flight to Wales on Sunday night with another cup to try to win -- the Ryder Cup -- this one worth no money at all.

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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A victory gives Furyk or Goosen the FedExCup

Furyk, Goosen and Donald all can win the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus by winning THE TOUR Championship, which comes with a $1.35 million prize of its own. So can Geoff Ogilvy, only three shots behind. Paul Casey and Charley Hoffman, both within five shots of the lead, can win golf's biggest payoff without even winning the tournament.

And there are enough video boards along the back nine that players should have a pretty good idea what they need to do.

"The first part of the scenario is I have to win, and the rest of it I can't control," Furyk said. "So the idea, really ... it makes it very simple. I have to win tomorrow, and the idea is just to go out and do the best I can to do that."

Furyk was at 8-under 202, and a victory Sunday could be a real breakthrough. He has never won three times in a season, and his third PGA TOUR title this year might warrant strong consideration for player of the year.

Even so, Furyk is aware not only of how many players are behind, but how many possibilities exist.

-- A victory gives Furyk or Goosen the FedExCup as long as Casey isn't the runner-up or Hoffman doesn't finish third alone.

-- Donald can win the FedExCup as long as Matt Kuchar, the top seed, doesn't finish second. Kuchar shot 72 and was 10 shots behind.

-- Ogilvy, who shot a 72 was three shots behind at 5-under 205, can win the $10 million provided Casey isn't second, Hoffman isn't third and Kuchar doesn't find a way to finish seventh.

"In the past, we had an idea who was going to win, or who had already won," Goosen said, referring to Tiger Woods in 2007 and 2009, and Vijay Singh in 2008 when the points system was such that the Fijian had already clinched the FedExCup when he showed up at East Lake.

It starts with playing well on Sunday, when the tee times will be early because rain is in the forecast that could dramatically change the fast, firm conditions of East Lake.

And as Donald showed in the third round, it all can change so quickly.

The Englishman was never out of the lead until he dumped his third shot into the bunker on the par-5 15th up the hill into a far corner of East Lake. He blasted out to about 12 feet, then ran his par putt 3 feet by. Donald hit the next putt too firmly to catch the grain, and he walked off with a shocking double bogey.

Furyk, who holed a 10-footer for birdie, suddenly had a two-shot lead.

"It was frustrating to give away a couple there," Donald said. "But I hit a lot of good shots today. I'm in great position -- still just one back, and this is the last Sunday of the regular tour, and I've got a chance to win it all. So that's nice to know."

Goosen has a chance to cap off a solid year with a victory, something he has failed to do. His nine top 10s are second on TOUR only to Matt Kuchar, although the two-time U.S. Open champion has never come seriously close to winning.

Ogilvy fell out of the hunt quickly, with a bogey on the first hole and a double bogey on the next one. He battled his way around, however, and finished with a 10-foot birdie putt that seemed to take 10 minutes to trickle down the slope and fall in the side of the cup. That left him only three shots behind.

And if anyone needed evidence a low score was available at East Lake, consider Nick Watney. His caddie has been calling him "Melba" all week because Watney is so tired from a long year -- and with his wedding a month away -- that he's toast. Watney had never heard of Melba toast, which was just as well. He resembled a jalapeno on Saturday, making seven birdies on the back nine for a 28, and shooting a 63 that put him all the way to 2-under 208 and in eighth place.

Phil Mickelson shot a 68 and was seven shots behind, enough to hope, but little more than that. He would need a victory to have any chance of winning the FedExCup for the first time. Lefty also needs to finish second to replace Woods at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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Corey Pavin confident in Tiger Woods

Corey Pavin has no concerns about Tiger Woods' passion for Ryder Cup play, even if he doesn't choose the world's top player for every match next month in Wales.

Pavin praised Woods' talent and teamwork Friday while discussing his final preparations for the Ryder Cup, which will be held Oct. 1-3. The U.S. captain also realizes everybody will be watching Woods, who could rebound from a mediocre season on tour and a nightmare year in his personal life with a strong performance for his country. "We've talked about how many times he wants to play," Pavin said. "He said, 'I want to play five matches.' We talked about him not playing as many, and he said, 'Whatever's best for the team.'"

Pavin selected Woods 10 days ago as a captain's pick. Woods missed the 2008 competition while recovering from knee surgery, but is eager to play -- despite occasional questions in the past about his motivation and results in international team play.

"He's more than ready," Pavin said. "When he's there, he's 100 percent there. I think people maybe look at his record and come to some conclusion from that. Just because he doesn't have a winning record in the Ryder Cup doesn't mean he's not fully committed to it."

Pavin believes his Americans are underdogs against a powerful European team that has more familiarity with the course built specifically for the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor, the site of the European Tour's Wales Open for the past three years. He expects European captain Colin Montgomerie to add tweaks to the course to negate the U.S. team's few advantages, perhaps countering the Americans' greater power off the tee with additional rough at about 280 yards.

"That's what I'd do if I were him," Pavin said, laughing.

Pavin has spent plenty of time poring over possible pairings in the past several weeks, but wasn't ready to reveal any decisions. He got a list of preferred partners from each player, but hasn't promised he'll stick to them.

"I didn't see any surprises," Pavin said, noting every player suggested at least three potential partners. "There might be surprises in there for the fans, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary."

Pavin is aware of Woods' past success playing with Steve Stricker, who teamed with Tiger to win all four of their team segments least year in the Presidents Cup in San Francisco, and Jim Furyk -- the only other player on the U.S. roster who has a winning record as Woods' partner.

"I did notice that," Pavin said coyly of Stricker's success with Woods. "I noticed a lot of things. It's important to look back at the history of who has played where, but it's not the only factor."

After serving as an assistant captain four years ago, Pavin is relishing his chance to run the team. He has consulted with several CEOs and a handful of coaches -- Doc Rivers of the Boston Celtics, former Lakers executive Jerry West, Texas football coach Mack Brown and UCLA basketball coach Ben Howland -- about motivation, management and overall athlete psychology.

With the help of his four assistant captain, Pavin is planning a low-key, entertaining week for his players, hoping to keep their minds off the pressure.

"Emotions run high during a Ryder Cup week for everybody, and you have to be very aware of your emotional level," Pavin said. "There's a drain emotionally on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and you have to be ready to go Thursday."

Pavin will be in Atlanta on Wednesday for a team meeting before the Tour Championship, but he'll go home to Dallas for the weekend before returning to Atlanta to catch Sunday's charter flight to Cardiff with his team.

Courtesy of Bob Harig. Column, AP, ESPN, and PlayonGolf.com
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