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Euro-thrashed

The somber mood turned spirited as, one by one, American players explained how much the Ryder Cup meant to them, how much playing in the biennial competition was a big part of their professional careers.

They poured their hearts out, shed a few tears, fired themselves up to try to pull off the unthinkable.

Perhaps the U.S. Ryder Cup team should consider such a bonding session as occurred Saturday night on the eve of the matches, before it is too late.

Faced with the nearly impossible task of trying to earn 9{ of a possible 12 points on Sunday at Oakland Hills Country Club, the Americans fell far short of the goal, showing an early spark in their 12 singles matches but eventually fizzling to inevitable defeat.

They went on to lose by their biggest margin ever at the Ryder Cup. The final score: Europe 18{, United States 9{.

"The Europeans are great, they came in here and played ferociously," U.S. captain Hal Sutton said. "They made the putts when they needed to, they hit the shots where they had to. The Americans have a lot of great players, but they just didn't play well this week."

To figure out what went wrong, where do you start?

How about with the top four players _ Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love and Jim Furyk. Their combined record was 5-12-1.

"Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love are supposed to play great and none of us did," Love said.

How about with Sutton, whose pairing of Woods and Mickelson the first day, and some other moves, certainly can be debated.

"We need to figure something out," Kenny Perry said. "We need to figure out our team play a little bit better. I think our foursomes and our fourballs we just need to kind of jell a little bit better and get guys playing that are a little more comfortable with each other. And try to get a little magic."

Or how about with the Europeans, who have some pretty good players themselves.

"Believe it or not, there's people that can play golf outside the States," said Spain's Sergio Garcia, who with England's Lee Westwood led the European team with 4{ of a possible five points. "We just live for this. We can't wait to play in this event. You try even harder. You believe in yourself even more than in other tournaments."

It was only fitting that Scotland's Colin Montgomerie holed a par putt on the 18th green that earned the winning point for the Europeans over David Toms, with five matches still on the course. Montgomerie, playing in his seventh consecutive Ryder Cup, has never lost a Sunday singles match.

The only thing left to decide was how big a defeat the Americans would suffer. And it was a big one.

The largest loss by the Americans was by five points in 1985, when Europe won for the first time since 1957. The 18{ points tied the most scored by any team since the Ryder Cup format changed to include continental Europe in 1971. The United States won by the same 18{ to 9{ score in 1981. Back then, there was a question if the matches ever would be competitive.

Now, it's another story. The Europeans have won four of the past five Ryder Cups, and if it weren't for an amazing comeback by the Americans in 1999, it would be five in a row.

"We come over with a big heart, full of hopes, full of expectations," said Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke, who halved his match with Love. "Recently we've been able to fulfill those hopes and expectations."

Early Sunday, the Americans were doing what was necessary, leading all the initial matches to provide a spark to the home crowd and give a boost to those players bringing up the rear.

Woods, leading off, never lost a hole in his match with Paul Casey and won 3 and 2. Mickelson took a 2-up lead through eight holes against Garcia, with Love and Furyk also ahead.

But the mood soon changed. Garcia won three straight holes against Mickelson and never looked back, charging to a 3-and-2 victory that gave Europe the first of only three points needed to retain the Cup.

And looking at the scoreboard, it was clear the Americans didn't have enough punch at the end of their lineup to get the job done. Fred Funk, Chris Riley, Jay Haas and Stewart Cink fell behind early in their matches, going on to lose.

It was simply too big of a deficit to overcome. Even in singles, a typical American stronghold, the Europeans won 7{ to 4{.

Before the next Ryder Cup in Ireland, there is bound to be some head scratching for the American hierarchy. They'll pick another captain in about a month, and no doubt a different strategy will be employed.

Does it even matter?

"Who knows the right thing to do?" Toms said. "I think the right thing to do is just play better."

36TH RYDER CUP

Sept. 22-24, 2006, Kildare Golf and Country Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland

FINAL POINTS BY PLAYER

EUROPE

Paul Casey 1

Darren Clarke 3{

Luke Donald 2{

Sergio Garcia 4{

Padraig Harrington 4

David Howell 1

Miguel A. Jimenez 1

Thomas Levet 1

Paul McGinley 2{

Colin Montgomerie 3

Ian Poulter 1

Lee Westwood 4{

UNITED STATES

Chad Campbell 1

Stewart Cink 1{

Chris DiMarco 2{

Fred Funk 0

Jim Furyk 1

Jay Haas 1{

Davis Love 1{

Phil Mickelson 1

Kenny Perry 0

Chris Riley 1{

David Toms 1

Tiger Woods 2

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