Originally created 09/17/06

Role reversal leaves U.S. in underdog role



STAFFAN, Ireland - One team has never enjoyed such depth, with seven players in the top 20 and none lower than No. 52.

The other?

Tough at the top, but carrying four rookies whose names are hardly household words.

It's the same old story at every Ryder Cup, with one delicious twist.

The roles are reversed.

Underdogs no more, all eyes are on Europe to extend this era of dominance over the Americans when the Ryder Cup gets under way Friday at The K Club in what is expected to be the biggest sporting event ever in Ireland.

The Europeans used to have a chip on their shoulder. Now they hoist a 17-inch gold cup proudly over their heads, having captured the Ryder Cup four of the past five times and seven of the past 10.

Colin Montgomerie, who has won more Ryder Cup points than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson combined, referred to this European team as the strongest assembled in some time.

And that wasn't a boast.

"No, that's just pure fact," he said. "If (captain) Ian Woosnam had picked all 12, he wouldn't have gotten very far from where we are. We are a good team. We hope to be the first European team to win three times in a row. We'd love to be part of that."

There is nothing to suggest that won't happen.

Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the Europeans embarrassed Woods and Mickelson on their way to an 18-9 victory, their largest margin since the Ryder Cup began in 1927. The time before that, they hammered the Americans in singles - a U.S. birthright in golf - to win at The Belfry.

Never mind that the Americans counter with a 1-2-3 punch of Woods, Jim Furyk and Mickelson, the top three players in the world ranking.

Or that Americans have captured 20 of the past 28 major championships since their last Ryder Cup victory in 1999.

Raise the flags, play the national anthems, and Europe turns into a world beater.

"This year, we are definitely the underdogs," Woods said.

Team spirit appears to be strong in the U.S. camp. The 12 players looked like a team for the first time when all of them - Woods and Mickelson included after rearranging their schedules - took a charter flight to Ireland at the end of August for two days of practice at The K Club.

The U.S. rookies are Augusta's Vaughn Taylor, J.J. Henry, Zach Johnson and Brett Wetterich. Two of them (Taylor and Wetterich) have never competed in match play at any level. Wetterich had never met Woods until the week after he made the team.

Advantage Europe? Not necessarily.

"The unknown is never welcomed in any situation," Montgomerie said. "The rookies in the past on these Ryder Cups, on both teams, have performed actually quite well. Who knows what to expect?"

None of the rookies has any experience in such a pressure-packed event like the Ryder Cup. Then again, experience has been more like scar tissue for a U.S. team that usually goes home without the trophy.