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The streak is over: Americans reclaim Ryder Cup

Associated Press Published: September 29, 2008
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Boo Weekley reprised his Happy Gilmore routine on the putting green. Barely-old-enough-to-drink Anthony Kim sprayed the raucous gallery with champagne. Phil Mickelson strolled around with an American flag draped across his shoulders.

This was a celebration nine years in the making.

Even with Tiger Woods reduced to the role of text-messaging fan, the United States ended an era of Ryder Cup frustration with a resounding victory over Europe on Sunday, the 17-inch gold chalice reclaimed by a disparate group of guys and their new-age guru of a coach.

The Americans led from start to finish at Valhalla Golf Club. They weren't going to let this one get away, not after losing three in a row and five of the last six to the Europeans.

"I'm just going to stay up all night and party with my boys," said U.S. coach Paul Azinger, architect of the team that beat the Europeans for the first time since 1999. "We're going to have a good time tonight, fellas."

The street-smart Kim, at 23 the youngest member of the team and certainly the most brash, showed up at the course wearing a gaudy "USA" belt buckle and quickly showed he wasn't conceding anything to Sergio Garcia - not even a 2-foot putt. The folksy Weekley teed off at No. 1, stuck his driver between his legs and galloped down the fairway as though he was riding a toy horse.

"It's time to go," was Weekley's message. "Let's ride this pony to the house."

Less than 5 1/2 hours later, his team was there. Kim routed Garcia. Weekley finished off his match with two holes to spare. Kenny Perry, who skipped two majors to focus on making a Ryder Cup team in his home state, celebrated a win with his overall-wearing, 85-year-old father and proclaimed, "That made my career." Another Kentuckian, J.B. Holmes, showed they can play more than basketball in bluegrass country.

Finally, it was Jim Furyk's turn.

Six years ago, he had to stand there helplessly at The Belfry as Europe's Paul McGinley knocked in the decisive putt. This time, Furyk was conceded the cup-deciding point by gracious Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez. After four other meaningless matches were played out, the Americans finished with a 16 1/2-11 1/2 triumph.

"You dream of winning the Ryder Cup, knocking in the 10-footer for your team and having the place go bananas," Furyk said. "Mine was a 2-foot conceded putt, but I'll take it."

So, how did this happen? How did a country that was blown out by staggering nine-point margins at the last two Ryder Cups turn it around, even after Woods was sidelined by a bum knee?

Start with Captain America.

Azinger spoke all week in terminology more reminiscent of a ballroom seminar - team building, staying on point - but the captain's strategy worked brilliantly.

After lobbying the PGA of America for changes to the selection process that granted him more power, Azinger assembled a 12-man squad that was quickly divvied up into four separate groups.

Team Aggressive: Kim, Mickelson, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan.

Team South: Weekley, Perry, Holmes and Furyk (OK, Furyk was born in Pennsylvania, but some concessions must be made).

Team Laid-Back: Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Champbell.

During the week, Azinger made sure those three distinct pods stuck together in the practice rounds. When picking his alternate-ball and better-ball pairings, he stayed within those subsets, even when switching things up from Friday to Saturday. Finally, the order for Sunday's singles had a familiar ring: the fiery group went first to set the tone, the guys from Dixie (and Furyk) played in the middle to feed off the crowd's energy, the steady guys teed off last as the anchors.

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