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19 Sep 2008 09:25
With two years of patient preparation finally behind them, Europe launch their bid on Friday for an unprecedented fourth successive Ryder Cup victory over the United States.
Led by six-time Major winner Nick Faldo, the Europeans enter uncharted territory as they defend the cherished trophy for the first time as favourites on American soil.
Five of the last six encounters have gone Europe’s way, the last two in lop-sided fashion, but Faldo accepts both teams will tee off on level terms in Friday’s opening foursomes matches.
“We start back on level ground with America and we will do our utmost to move forward,” an emotional Faldo told reporters after the final day of official practice at Valhalla Golf Club on Thursday.
“We are nearly there and tomorrow morning [Friday] it starts. This is the best experience I’ve ever had inside, outside the ropes, as a non-player.
This is the most special week of my life right now.”
“We’re very fortunate that we’re in this position this week,” he said of a European line-up with every player ranked in the world’s top 50.
While Faldo appeared close to tears in his last news conference before the 37th Ryder Cup gets under way, his American counterpart, Paul Azinger, exuded poise and self-belief.
“I feel very happy and I’m confident,” the 48-year-old said. “I’ve enjoyed sharing this experience with a bunch of my really close friends.
“This entire match is about my players, making it a great experience for them and making it a great experience for my family and their families and my assistants. I want them to have the time of their lives.”
Azinger believes his team have everything to gain as underdogs against Europe while missing Tiger Woods for the first time since he made his Cup debut in 1997.
“The Europeans have brought an incredible team over here and we have a great opportunity to change it,” he said.
“We have everything to gain in this situation. Not a lot of people expect us to pull this off, minus Tiger Woods. Everybody feels pressure but hopefully they [my players] will be free-wheeling out there. That’s my hope.”
World number one Woods shut down his 2008 campaign in June after winning the US Open and having reconstructive knee surgery.
Faldo, a veteran of 11 Ryder Cups as a player, felt the absence of Woods could spark the home team in their bid to win the trophy for the first time since 1999.
“The American team might want to show the rest of the golfing world, the rest of America and maybe Tiger, that they can play and they can perform better and they can win without him,” the English former world number one said.
“On my side, I reckon this is the one (Ryder Cup) that Tiger was going to play a blinder and win every match. I think they have lost out on a few points.”
Europe have won the last two matches in record-equalling style, blowing away the Americans by 18½ points to 9½ at Oakland Hills in 2004 before repeating the drubbing at the K Club in Ireland two years later.
Boo Weekley, one of six rookies on the American team, is eager for the US to reverse that losing trend.
“The past has got to change,” the shooting and fishing enthusiast said. “It’s time for a new era. We’re the underdogs and you don’t know what you’ve got until you get out there and play with it.
“It’s like getting a new pack of hounds when going deer hunting. You don’t know what kind of dogs you’ve got until you run them so let’s run them and we’ll see.”—Reuters
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