U.S. now tied in Ryder Cup

Posted: Sunday, September 29, 2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- The game was familiar, just not the stage.

Tiger Woods finally brought his best golf to the Ryder Cup, sweeping his matches Saturday with a stunning rally that featured the kind of clutch shots usually reserved for the majors.

The rest of the Americans joined in with some dramatic shots of their own, none more memorable than David Duval going for broke by driving the 10th green to swing the momentum in his favor, leading to the biggest comeback of the week.

At the end of another electrifying day at The Belfry, the matches were tied at 8 for the first time since 1991 at Kiawah Island, S.C.

All that's left to decide who gets the gold cup are the 12 single matches on Sunday. The United States needs only 14 points, and Woods is in the final match.

''Maybe he'll sleep a little better tonight,'' said Davis Love III, Woods' partner in both matches Saturday. ''But we won't sleep great, any of us, until we win.''

History favors the United States.

The Sunday singles are virtually a U.S. birthright in the Ryder Cup. Only five times in the 75-year history of the matches have the Americans lost the singles series, and just once since European domination of the Cup began in 1985.

''What is history?'' Thomas Bjorn said. ''We won singles 7-5 at Oak Hill (in 1995). It can be done. We know they're going to come out hard and we know we've got to play our best to beat them. We've got good enough players on our side to win this.''

European captain Sam Torrance is sending his best out early, the opposite of Mark James' ill-advised tactic when the United States rallied to win in 1999 at Brookline.

First off is Colin Montgomerie, unbeaten in four matches, followed by Sergio Garcia.

U.S. captain Curtis Strange is saving his best for last -- Phil Mickelson, who lost his only match in the afternoon, and Woods.

''They have one Tiger. We have 12 lions,'' Torrance said.

That one Tiger came up huge Saturday.

After teaming with Love -- his eighth partner in three Ryder Cups -- for an alternate-shot victory in the morning, Woods carried the load in a pivotal best-ball match against the previously undefeated tandem of Garcia and Lee Westwood.

Faced with going 2-down on the 11th hole, Woods chipped in for birdie to match Garcia.

The more crucial moment came on the 16th. Westwood holed a 20-foot birdie putt, as the lowest-ranked player in the Ryder Cup (No. 148) continued an amazing performance.

Woods had to make an 8-footer to keep alive any chance of winning, a situation he's been in countless times. The putt fell in the center of the cup.

''It's a fun feeling to have a guy out there you know can make it,'' Love said.

Woods hit his approach to the 17th to 4 feet, but he never had to putt when Love chipped in from just off the green to birdie. Europe contributed to the rest of the comeback.

Garcia missed a 3-foot birdie putt on the 17th that would have secured at least a halve. Then, Westwood missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th to give the Americans a 1-up victory.

Garcia, jumping and dancing around The Belfry the first two days, disgustedly threw his ball into the water.

The victory spared Woods and Love one controversial decision.

Garcia and Westwood grabbed momentum when both of them hit driver onto the 10th green. The Americans backed down from the challenge, laying up on the 277-yard hole and taking their chances with a wedge. Both failed to make birdie.

Ultimately, it didn't matter.

That wasn't the case for Duval, who was 2-down in his best-ball match with Mark Calcavecchia when he became the first -- and only -- American to give it a shot. He hit driver to 20 feet for a two-putt birdie that won the hole and gave him momentum.

''I figured if I could hit it up there, then it would force their hand a bit and maybe it would change the tides,'' Duval said. ''That's exactly what happened.''

He and Calcavecchia went on to birdie five of the next holes in a 1-up victory.

Mickelson and David Toms, the only U.S. team to stay together all four matches, were beaten for the first time when Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington led wire-to-wire, closing them out on the 17th.

Scott Hoch finally got rewarded for his solid play, making a 12-foot birdie on the 17th to assure the matches would be tied. Hoch narrowly missed an 8-foot par putt on the final hole, the match ending in a halve.

''I think we're all pleased -- not tickled to death or happy -- but pleased that we're 8-8,'' Strange said.

Paul Azinger, who sat out both matches Saturday, is the only American who has not earned a point. Europe's contributions have come from eight of its 12 players.

Everyone plays Sunday. Every match is likely to matter.

For most of Saturday, it looked like the Americans would wind up in the same hole they were in three years ago at The Country Club, when they had to make up a 10-6 deficit.

Lucky to be trailing by one point going into the second day, the United States was behind in all eight matches at one point, and still earned points in all but two of them.

Duval and Calcavecchia had the biggest comeback, from 3-down after seven holes.

Mickelson and Toms set the tone.

Lefty asked to be the first match of the morning, wanting to put a point on the board early. He delivered a 2-and-1 victory with his usual assortment of thrills.

Mickelson hit a 3-wood from 249 yards to within 3 feet for an eagle and a 2-up lead on the par-5 15th. Then he hit a spectacular bunker shot -- from a plugged lie against the slip of a steep bunker -- to 3 feet for a par save.

''That was one of the best shots I've ever hit,'' he said.

Expect to see plenty more on Sunday, when the 14-inch gold cup comes into view.

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