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Ryder Cup 2006: Can the Americans win on foreign soil?

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

It's not exactly going out on a limb to call the Europeans the favorites heading into the 2006 Ryder Cup Sept. 22-24.

Palmer at K Club 17th
The par-3 17th on the Palmer course at the K Club plays 173 yards with water along the left side.
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Palmer at K Club 17thThe Smurfit
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The Euros have won four of the last five competitions - a term we can use loosely after the 18½-9½ drubbing they handed the Americans at Oakland Hills Country Club in Michigan in 2004.

They've got the confidence. They've got the Americans feeling spooked. And, to borrow a basketball term, they've got the home-court advantage.

Or do they?

"To be honest, we couldn't have picked a better venue for the Americans," Padraig Harrington told Travel & Leisure Golf magazine of the plush Palmer course at Ireland's K Club.

"We've got a U.S.-style golf course designed by Arnold Palmer; they are staying on-site in a magnificent hotel where many of them have stayed before. If we were going to pick a venue to negate home advantage, this would be it."

A ploy to shift pressure to the underdog Yanks? Maybe, but both sides have their advantages going in.

So just who is the favorite? Well, as Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel have shown, in major golf competitions anything can happen.

Why the Europeans will win

No matter how many times they win, the Euros will always point to the world ranking and say they're the underdogs. It allows them to play loose, swing freely, go for broke.

"The Europeans have taken great attitude last decade - 'We are the underdog. We have nothing to lose.' They try to take the pressure off that way," Phil Mickelson said in 2004. "When we arrive on the first tee, we don't play like we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. We feel just the opposite. We feel like we have nothing to gain and everything to lose."

The Euros treat the Ryder Cup Matches like one big party. They smoke stogies after rounds. They drink cocktails. The Americans get all stodgy and uptight. They don't get along. Their big guns never seem to come cocked and loaded.

Mickelson and Tiger Woods have spotty Ryder Cup records. Chris DiMarco and Jim Furyk are reliable but not world-beaters. Beyond them, where are the U.S. heroes?

David Duval went AWOL. Payne Stewart passed away. Davis Love III has struggled in 2006. J.J. Henry and Zach Johnson don't strike fear in anyone's hearts.

Good thing U.S. captain Tom Lehman is nearly bald. If he had hair, trying to pilot this sinking ship would certainly turn it gray.

Why the Americans will win

Hey, enough with the pessimism, sarcasm and America-bashing, OK? This team, perhaps more than any other in the last six Ryder Cups, shows signs it's ready to win.

The inspiring victory in last year's President's Cup, where the Americans beat a formidable lineup led by Vijay Singh and Retief Goosen, could carry over. The Americans seem to have finally found a few best-ball and alternate-shot combinations that work, especially Mickelson-DiMarco and Woods-Furyk. And they are tired of being embarrassed by the Euros.

The Americans can also expect a warm welcome from the fun-loving, golf-loving Irish, taking the edge off the home-course advantage. The Euro-friendly crowds at Oakland Hills were a big surprise, and a big factor in the Europeans' smashing win.

Finally, the law of averages dictates the Americans must win sooner or later. If this sounds desperate, that's because it is.

The venue

There will be no shortage of drama on the lengthened (to 7,337 yards) Palmer course, which has been tweaked several times since Clarke burned it for a 61 to win the Smurfit European Open in 2001.

"The course is all about angles," said John McHenry, K Club director of golf.

By all accounts, Palmer designed a second-shot golf course. Two holes stand out.

The 555-yard 16th may be the best par 5 in Ireland. After a booming drive, any attempt to reach in two must fly the River Liffey to a small sliver of a green. Even those who lay up risk dumping the approach into the water with too much spin with a wedge.

Matches that make it to the par-5 18th will probably end in fireworks. Water runs the entire left side on the approach, with bunkers and mounds gobbling up any bailouts right. Fun to watch; nerve-wracking to play.

Still, many critics are appalled the K Club is hosting the Ryder Cup Matches at all. The selection was essentially bought and paid for by owner Michael Smurfit's commitment to hosting the European Open for the European Tour. Purists would rather the Matches were played on a links, especially in its first visit to Ireland, than on an Americanized parkland course.

The reality is that few true links have the infrastructure to host the biggest party in golf. The K Club will have its challenges - the roads in and out will be congested - but there's no bashing the resort itself.

Opulence is the only way to describe the sprawling, luxurious hotel. Tiger and Co. will feel right at home in such rarified air. The service is over the top. Every wall is covered with million-dollar art. The restaurant and spa are world-renowned.

Here's hoping the golf lives up to those high standards.

The prediction

The minute I've convinced myself the Euros are a lock, I can't help but believe the sleeping-giant Americans will finally awaken. I'll pick the Yanks in a thriller.

Maybe. Let me think about it some more.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.


 
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