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Langer gets his shining moment

Bernhard Langer is by far Germany's most accomplished golfer, the one who helped put the sport on his country's map. He won two Masters and captured 64 events worldwide. Now he can put a Ryder Cup on his resume as captain of the team.

Langer, 47, seemed to make all the right moves at Oakland Hills Country Club, where the European team celebrated its biggest win over the United States 18{ to 9{. Thirteen years ago Langer missed a 6-foot par putt on the final hole at Kiawah Island that meant victory for the United States.

"You can't compare the Ryder Cup with majors," Langer said. "You can't compare it with anything. The Masters is an individual achievement. The Ryder Cup is a team effort.

"I've had some wonderful memories. Kiawah. I'm not that sad or depressed about it. I was down for a couple of days. Every time I got up and looked in the mirror, I knew I gave 100 percent. You gain success through failure, you learn about things. I don't think it can get any better than this week. They actually exceeded everything I was hoping for."

FEELING THE PRESSURE: It has been suggested that Europeans want to win the Ryder Cup more, especially given their success in the past two decades. Phil Mickelson disagrees. Mickelson, who has played on every U.S. team since 1995, believes the Americans might be trying too hard.

"It's a rare opportunity, a career-defining moment for us," Mickelson said. "When we get here, we are under constant ridicule and scrutiny over our play and not coming together as a team and all of this stuff that we know to be false. We want so badly to win this event that when we arrive on the first tee, we don't play as though we have everything to gain and nothing to lose. We just feel the opposite almost. We need to play with more of a free spirit."

WOOING THE FANS: From the moment they arrived in Michigan, European team members went out of their way to be friendly with fans at Oakland Hills. The idea was to perhaps take the edge off what is sometimes a volatile situation at the Ryder Cup.

"I think we made a huge effort to make that happen," said Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, who has been the subject of heckling in the United States. "It was Bernhard's decision to sign autographs and be open with the crowd and it worked in our favor."

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The beauty of team golf is that players can accept advice from more than their caddies. A partner can help read putts and give advice on club selection. Same for the team captain. Ireland's Paul McGinley believes Langer's influence on the course was crucial.

"You know the way you often read a book (and it says) you get an average player and you put Jack Nicklaus' head on his shoulders, how good a player would that guy be," McGinley said. "It's a little bit like that this week with Bernhard. He's given us advice about course management and club selection and pin position."

Padraig Harrington said Langer's advice was specific. "At all the par 3s, he came up, told me the club to play, the place to hit it, why to hit it there," Harrington said. "It's not like he's telling you to do it, but he's definitely advising you."

_ BOB HARIG, Times staff writer