Players enjoy calm before Ryder Cup storm
STEVE KEATING AND LARRY FINE
In the relative calm before the Europe and the United States resume their fierce Ryder Cup rivalry, players made the most of a chance to catch their breath at a sun-kissed Medinah Country Club.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal put his men through a light trot, sending them out to play nine holes before giving them the rest of the day off to relax and forget about the battle to defend the trophy that lies ahead.
"They saw the course yesterday, they saw every bit of it yesterday," Spaniard Olazabal said.
"Now it's just a matter of taking it a little bit easier today and tomorrow because Friday (local time), 36 holes. Saturday (local time), 36 holes, a lot of pressure, a lot of tension.
"I want them just to take it a little bit easier than usually."
The US team put in some serious practise but by the end of the day it was their table tennis prowess that was the focus of attention.
American captain Davis Love III has stressed the need for his players to have fun this week in order to defuse some of the pressure and so the ping pong tables were brought into the US team room.
Even if Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson blew the competition away in tandem on the table tennis table, they were not trying to pretend they have done the same as a Ryder Cup partnership.
Famously at Oakland Hills in 2004, captain Hal Sutton played the ultimate hunch by matching Woods with his long-time rival in a combination that failed miserably.
"We've not had much success together on the course but I will say that as partners on the pong table, he and I are delivering," a smiling Mickelson told reporters.
"We are serving it up and there are not many guys that can match us on the pong table.
"Although we didn't play well together in '04 on the golf course, put us together on that table and we're rocking it."
The excitement and tension will be ratcheted up another notch on Thursday when the captains unveil the all-important pairings.
The resulting match-ups for Friday's opening foursomes have been the source of tremendous speculation since the players arrived at Medinah.
One possible US pairing that Love must consider is Woods and Steve Stricker, who formed a successful partnership two years ago in Wales and won two of three matches against the Europeans in a losing cause.
Woods, still struggling to rediscover the form that once made him peerless in tournament play, has a less impressive record with other partners over his long Ryder Cup career of 7-12-1.
"I think his confidence level is growing all the time," Stricker said of his 2010 partner.
"We can see it just from his year that he's had and the way he's going about his business, the way he's carrying himself, the type of shots that he's hitting.
"And he's won three times, so you can see that growing."
US rookie Brandt Snedeker, winner of the Tour Championship and the $10 million FedExCup playoffs bonus prize, also sees big things for Woods, who won a pair of PGA Championship titles at Medinah in 1999 and 2006.
"I played a practice round with him yesterday, he's playing great," said Snedeker. "I don't see any panic in him at all. I think he's going to be a very, very tough guy to beat this week.
"He knows this golf course very, very well. He's got a little edge to him."
After spending the first part of week in press conferences and functions talking about the event, the prevailing feeling from both teams on Wednesday (local time) was one of impatience to get the 39th Ryder Cup underway.
"I feel like I'm wasting time getting ready the rest of the week," said Snedeker. "I'm ready to go. I'd love to tee it up tomorrow and play 36 a day and let's go."