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Sunday PUNCH
Steve Rushin
October 07, 2002
With the mighty U.S. team saving its heavy hitters until it was too late, the Europeans came out swinging and landed a match-play haymaker to win the Ryder Cup
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October 07, 2002

Sunday Punch

With the mighty U.S. team saving its heavy hitters until it was too late, the Europeans came out swinging and landed a match-play haymaker to win the Ryder Cup

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Torrance claimed to have no clue what Strange's lineup would look like and how his own list might match up. But Scottsbluff ain't just a town in Nebraska, and Torrance is—as Parnevik put it—"not as dumb as he looks." And so, after an almost preposterously good day of golf on Saturday that included 106 birdies, the Cup would come down to 12 singles matches on Sunday.

In the wood-paneled sanctuary of the Belfry Hotel on Saturday night—its lobby filled with enough smoke to cure a thousand hams—the U.S. team gathered for one final meeting, at which Strange's 20-year-old son, Thomas, heretofore mute, asked to say a few words. "I'll never forget what my dad said at the opening ceremony," began Thomas, alluding to a French political cartoon, published shortly after Sept. 11, that his father had cited in his speech on Thursday. The cartoon's caption, which the senior Strange had found so moving, said simply, WE ARE ALL AMERICANS.

We are all Americans. Thomas Strange repeated the words somberly, and then said, "Boys, that s—- ain't gonna fly tomorrow." And the room exploded with laughter.

"That apple," said Paul Azinger, "didn't fall far from the tree."

In the same hotel, on Sunday morning, Europe's Ryder Cup rookies—among them Price, McGinley and Niclas Fasth of Sweden—ate breakfast together and relished the idea of playing last, head-to-head against golf's giants, with the Ryder Cup at stake. "[One of us] may get to do the honors," Fasth said to McGinley, of stroking the decisive putt. "If the stars behave."

Later in the day, of course, Niclas and Price would play like (Jack) Nicklaus and (Nick) Price. But the cosmos began behaving long before they teed off, when Eurostars like Monty and Bernhard Langer and Padraig Harrington were beating the charcoal-gray uniform pants off Hoch, Hal Sutton, and Mark Calcavecchia, respectively. None of those matches made it past the 15th hole. Lonely spectators in the grandstand around the 18th green were beginning to wonder if the Cup had been canceled. By the time Stewart Cink was sunk, 2 and 1, by Thomas Bj�rn of Denmark, Europe had won four of Sunday's first six matches and had the crowd whipped into what The Clash once called a White Riot.

But the Yanks had two Tigers in their tank, and one of them—Toms, of Louisiana State—rallied to beat Garc�a one up. Then Toms's fellow U.S. Ryder rookie, Scott Verplank, defeated Westwood. Suddenly the Cup was harder to call than the Florida election, with the matches in progress (Azinger/Fasth, Furyk/McGinley, Love/Pierre Fulke) too close to project. But every time the U.S. went up in one, they'd fall down in another, and getting traction proved nearly impossible, like herding squirrels.

Still the Yanks hung on with their teeth, even as their Poli-Grip was slipping. Zinger, in an epic against Fasth, chipped to the lip of the 5th hole, where the ball hung for an eternity. It was finally knocked in by a shadow cutting across the green. On 18, needing—absurdly—to hole out from a bunker for a birdie that would keep his team alive, Azinger blasted his shot in. With that the U.S. was still breathing, until the next twosome, Furyk and McGinley, who were all square, hit their shots into the 18th green. It was, for one of them anyway, a fairway to heaven.

"What can I say?" asked McGinley of what happened next. "Unbelievable." Unbelievable that the stars behaved, and his putt dropped, and 35,000 people began to sing as one. Unbelievable, too, that Love and Woods were left on the course, impotent (in spite of the on-site, Viagra-pushing Pfizer Men's Health tent).

Until the instant McGinley's putt fell, Woods's match with Parnevik was all square, and about all that could have hung in the balance were an intercontinental sports championship carried on live television in four dozen countries and—more important—the affection of Elin Nordegren, Tiger's girlfriend and Jesper's ex-nanny. Said Parnevik, "She better have been rooting for me." We'll never know. Tiger was left on 17, holding his perfect seven-iron. Said Woods, with characteristic understatement, "It was frustrating."

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