NEWPORT, Wales --- A young woman working at the Celtic Manor this week did a double-take when she saw Corey Pavin getting into a golf cart. She didn't realize he was the U.S. captain. What got her attention was what he was holding.
"Is that the Ryder Cup trophy?" she said excitedly before holding up her credential to show an image of the gold chalice.
Pavin and the U.S. team own the real thing. The question is whether they go home with it.
After a night of travel on a charter flight out of Atlanta, the defending champions arrived in Wales for the Ryder Cup matches they will try to win on foreign soil for the first time since 1993.
Europe is considered the stronger team on paper with two major champions, Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer, and a 12-man side that has produced 17 victories this year, five of those on the PGA Tour.
European captain Colin Montgomerie isn't buying into the hype.
"Yes, we might be favorites," he said. "But I don't see it as much as you guys might be putting this together. This will be very, very close and very competitive, as they always are."
The Americans have the top two players in the world ranking, which in this case might be misleading. Tiger Woods has not won a tournament all year. Phil Mickelson won the Masters Tournament, but he has been in the top 10 only once in the past three months.
Even so, Pavin has reason to feel his U.S. team is ready to defend. Jim Furyk won the Tour Championship on Sunday, Matt Kuchar won The Barclays and Dustin Johnson won the BMW Championship.
"I like the way Team USA is playing right now," Pavin said. "I think there's a lot of guys that have been playing well, and that's always a good thing. Any captain is going to want his players to be up on their game. But then again, anything can happen during a week of golf. I just would like my guys to be out there and be comfortable, relaxed, and get some good practice in the next couple of days."