Publish date:


It's the morning after on the so-called Costa del Sol, and we,
the losers, just got our wake-up call--a lightning bolt that
practically upended cars in the hotel parking lot. The boom
interrupted our quiet sobbing, and now we're on the balcony in
the dark, listening to the splash of rainwater on terra-cotta
tiles and looking for the dawn. The bottle of champagne is
unopened on the coffee table, the ice bucket empty.

Here's where our good old American optimism kicks in. We can
take the champagne home! We can save it for Boston 1999, or the
Belfry 2001--or for whenever our guys shake this little slump.

Probably Boston '99. The U.S. team may have lost at Valderrama,
but Sunday's singles matches indicated the direction this
competition may take. Our best 12 played their best 12, and we
prevailed, 8 points to 4. Fred Couples was seven under for 11
holes in his 8 and 7 lashing of Ian Woosnam. Mark O'Meara made
six birdies in 14 holes to eliminate the formidable Jesper
Parnevik, 5 and 4. Tom Lehman made short work of Ignacio
Garrido, beating the Spaniard 7 and 6. "We almost pulled off the
biggest comeback ever," Lehman reminded reporters afterward.

Deep breath. Exhale. Yeah, that's the ticket.

The performance of certain players provides further reason for
optimism. O'Meara, a 40-year-old with a 2-5-1 record in three
previous Ryder Cups, was supposed to babysit Tiger Woods for a
day or two. Instead, he carried the struggling phenom to victory
in the Friday four-balls. Scott Hoch, at 41 the oldest Ryder Cup
rookie ever, went undefeated in three matches and halved with
Europe's best player, Colin Montgomerie, on Sunday. In a third
instance of unexpected bounty, second-time Ryder Cupper Jeff
Maggert beat Europe's brightest newcomer, Lee Westwood, and
joined Hoch in a foursomes victory over Westwood and Nick Faldo.

For more pertinent achievements, we need only look to the play
of Lee Janzen, Lehman, Justin Leonard, Phil Mickelson and Jim
Furyk--five players who figure to make future Ryder Cup teams.
Janzen dazzled captain Tom Kite and his teammates on Sunday
when, with the Cup teetering toward Europe, he won his last
three holes for a one-up victory over Jose Maria Olazabal.
Lehman, with his singles win and two halves, played with his
usual quiet authority. Leonard, the young British Open champion,
somehow looked good without winning, making a clutch of birdies
while losing twice and halving twice.

Mickelson's play was tarnished by a couple of critical putts
that did not fall--a five-footer for birdie that would have
halved a Friday four-ball match and a 17th hole eagle putt that
spun out on Saturday, forcing him and Lehman to settle for
another four-ball halve. Nevertheless, Mickelson has lost only
once in seven Ryder Cup matches and continues to inspire
confidence. As for Furyk, the Ryder Cup rookie with the Cup O'
Noodles swing, let's just say that his 3-and-2 win in singles
over Faldo, punctuated by two late birdies from off the putting
surface, is a welcome portent.

"We played a lot better than it looked," says the U.S. PGA
champion, Davis Love III.

This was true. Mostly the Americans suffered on the greens,
which were as familiar as Moroccan carpets to the Europeans, who
play Valderrama every year on their tour. The U.S. side will
learn from this and never repeat the mistake of staying away
until the week of the match, conceding local knowledge.

Best of all, this U.S. team took its hard loss without
bellyaching or finger-pointing. Woods, a bitter disappointment
with only 1 1/2 points to show for five matches, stayed with his
teammates and didn't sulk. ("It was a chance for all of us to
get to know each other," said the solitary 21-year-old. "A
bonding experience.") Kite, the captain, was even more gracious
in defeat, and his Panglossian take on the outcome--"My team is
spectacular....You cannot say one bad thing about them"--was a
welcome salve to 12 bruised egos. No one leaves Valderrama a
broken man.

We feel better. Dawn is breaking, and the chirping of birds
mingles now with the thump of car trunks and the growl of a bus
engine. The storm has passed, leaving a few rosy clouds over the

Champagne, anyone?

COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Janzen, a captain's pick, proved to be an excellent choice.[Lee Janzen]