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updated: 9/27/2012 11:53 PM

Time for Team USA to show Ryder Cup mettle

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  • Did USA Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, left, make the right choices for his his team and the pairings? We'll find out today as play begins for the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah.

    Did USA Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III, left, make the right choices for his his team and the pairings? We'll find out today as play begins for the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah.
    Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer


The time for talk is over. The time to play is now.

It is the 39th Ryder Cup, a global event seen by a half billion people and featuring more pressure than most of these 24 golfers will face in their sporting lives.

The first-tee nerves will result in shaking hands and massive hooks. The first birdie might offer a sedative, but the first hole lost certain to race the heart.

For the Americans, Medinah will promise a tremendous advantage if the U.S. can make some birdies early Friday and get the crowd involved. That roar will be felt throughout the course and down to the bones of the Europeans.

The difference is the Euros have proved they're tough enough to handle anything Team USA or Chicago can throw at them. What the Americans have not proven is that they can survive a close match.

So if it boils down to a putt or two on Sunday, there are many Europeans you suspect can handle the moment. The flip side is there aren't many Americans on this squad who have demonstrated the same in Ryder Cup play.

"I think the pressure is certainly as great as any major and in some ways it's even worse," said Phil Mickelson. "The difference is in a major, you're accountable only to yourself and if you don't perform you're hurting yourself.

"In the Ryder Cup, if you don't perform you're letting down your teammates and nobody wants that."

And that is why an even start on Friday -- at the very least -- is the key to an American victory.

Team USA does not have a single player with a winning Ryder Cup record, though Tiger Woods is 4-1-1 in singles and hasn't lost on Sunday since his first Ryder Cup at Valderrama in 1997, when Costantino Rocca took him down 4 and 2.

The flip side for Europe is Ian Poulter, who has an 8-3 record and seems to live for this event. Graeme McDowell is 4-2-2 and put away Hunter Mahan to win at Celtic Manor. Rory McIlroy (1-1-2) is the best player in the world and afraid of nothing. Lee Westwood (16-11-6) is the most experienced European player. And Luke Donald (8-2-1) is playing a home game.

"I just love this event more than any other event in the world," Poulter said. "I get very excited to play. I get very proud to put this shirt on and have that crest on my chest.

"There's something about the Ryder Cup which kind of intrigues me, how you can be great mates with somebody, but, boy do you want to kill them in the Ryder Cup."

The Europeans appear loose and happy to be here, while the Americans -- with a couple exceptions -- look tired and at times indifferent.

That could all change Friday morning. It must if Team USA is to play well.

Friday foursomes

Both captains were predictable with their pairings for Friday morning foursomes -- starting at 7:20 a.m. -- with Rory McIlroy-Graeme McDowell vs. Jim Furyk-Brandt Snedeker; Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley vs. Luke Donald-Sergio Garcia; Lee Westwood-Francesco Molinari vs. Jason Dufner-Zach Johnson; and Steve Stricker-Tiger Woods vs. Ian Poulter-Justin Rose.

Davis Love apparently never considered sitting some of his veterans who have been terrible in pairings. It won't take long to find out if that was a mistake or the stuff of genius.

The 15th hole

Promoted as a drivable par-4 -- which can play as short as 285 yards -- and perhaps the hole that could determine any match, lefties Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have said they won't even try to drive the green and that the hype is overblown.

That's easy to say now, but if a team is down a point or two with only a couple holes to play, some players will have to go for eagle when birdie is likely for the other side.

Practice rounds

How different is a team practice from tournament play?

After hitting two tee shots on No. 7 Thursday, Tiger Woods walked down the center of the fairway with Dustin Johnson on the tee box only 100 feet behind -- hitting bombs right over Woods' head.

Caddies also roll putts on the greens to get a read and feel, and players stick tees in the greens to mark next-day pin placements while putting at those markers.

The experience

Of the 11 European players with Ryder Cup experience, eight have winning records. Nicolas Colsaerts is the only rookie and the first Belgium native to make the team.

The four rookies on the U.S. team are Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker, though Simpson and Bradley have won majors, Snedeker just captured the FedEx Cup, and Simpson played on the Presidents Cup team that won in Australia last November.

The numbers

Nick Faldo (Europe) holds the all-time Ryder Cup mark for most appearances, with 11 straight from 1977 to 1997.

With his ninth consecutive appearance, Phil Mickelson now holds the American record. Jim Furyk (8) is tied for second with Billy Casper, Raymond Floyd and Lanny Wadkins.

Currently at 34 matches, Mickelson will at least tie and probably surpass Casper (37) for most matches played among Americans. Faldo holds the record for most all-time matches (46), and Lee Westwood leads current Europeans with his eighth Ryder Cup appearance.

Charm offensive

The Euros have made a huge effort to make friends and influence fans by signing autographs throughout the course and stopping for pictures and autographs.

The coverage

ESPN will air 12 hours on Friday beginning at 7 a.m. and NBC carries the broadcast on the weekend.

And finally

David Feherty: "Colin Montgomerie is the greatest Ryder Cup player of all time. Something really put the tilt in his kilt every time he put his Ryder Cup spikes on. He turned into a virtually unbeatable player."

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him on Twitter @BarryRozner.

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