Tiger Woods gave the media something to write about last week when he said that winning the American Express Championship in Ireland was more important to him than winning a Ryder Cup. After the media pressed him for an explanation he responded with the arrogant wisecrack, “I can think of a million reasons why.” Although Woods later recanted his comment, the statement gives Europeans more quote board material, in an event where they already had a great deal of motivation to defeat the Americans.

The Ryder Cup begins today at the Belfry in England after being delayed for one year in lieu of the September 11th tragedy last fall. In the last Ryder Cup that was played three years ago in Brookline, Mass Justin Leonard sank a near impossible sixty-five foot birdies for the Americans to cap an improbable rally over the Europeans.

As Leonard sank the putt the American players and their wives stormed the 17th green in a jubilous celebration that enraged their European counterparts. The Europeans have pledged revenge, and claim that their putters will do the talking this weekend.

One problem that both sides face is that they agreed to keep their rosters intact from last year even though several players have had extremely poor seasons. For the Americans the main question is David Duval, who is suffering through his worst season as a professional. Ranked number three in the world at this time last year, Duval has dropped nine spots to number twelve in only making one top 10 all season. Hal Sutton, one of the heroes of the

’99 Cup has struggled even more. His world ranking has plummeted 100 spots from 21 to 121 as he has only made one cut all summer.

The European version of David Duval is Lee Westwood, who is also going through the biggest tailspin of his career. As high as number four in the world several years ago, Westwood’s ranking has dipped all the way to 141. The Europeans will still feel that he can produce four quality days of golf, and will need him to return to old form if they hope to have a chance of regaining the cup. Jesper Parnevik, who was hitting his iron shots so precisely that he was skipping down the fairways in joy with partner Sergio Garcia, has also found tough times this year.

Expect him to play like he did in”99 however, as he has led the Europeans with brilliant play during the last two Ryder Cups. Other Europeans that have performed inconsistently over the last year include Phillip Price and Pierre Fulke.

Just like the past few Ryder Cups, the Americans are heavily favored, and the Europeans are begging for respect. Expect an extremely tight contest with the Europeans taking the early lead in team play, and the Americans using their advantage in individual skill to dominate singles play on Sunday. The U.S. will need Woods to improve on his 3-6-1 career Ryder Cup record if it hopes to retain the cup.

Golf expert John Feinstein had this to say about the world’s number one golfer,'”Tiger Woods wants to put in a good performance before he tells the media that it’s important to him. If he goes 5-0, expect him to say that he has adjusted to team play and competing for his country is vital to him. But until then he won’t consider the Ryder Cup a big event.” This weekend the Ryder Cup will be a big event for Woods, as he leads his country to victory.

Rybaltowski can be reached at mrybaltowski@campustimes.org.

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