Tiger Woods had to win four of the last five holes to beat J.B. Holmes at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February.
Robert Beck/SI
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At Valhalla, as on Wall Street, you don't have to look far to find good ol' American pessimism.

Europe has won three straight Ryder Cups. Team USA comes in after two consecutive 18 1/2 - 9 1/2 drubbings. The last one, at Dublin's K Club in 2006, would likely have been even more lopsided had J.J. Henry not been conceded a 25-foot putt on 18. (Paul McGinley gave him the putt after a fan streaked across the green.) Europe won all five sessions, the first time a team had done so since the current Ryder Cup format began in 1979. Once again it was as if Doyle Brunsonwere playing cards with a blind golden retriever — one side looked infallible, the other incontinent.

But Team America can win. Oh, yes. Think back to Feb. 20, when J.B. Holmes, the 65th seed, nearly dispatched His Eminence Tiger Woods in the first round of the Accenture Match Play in Tucson. Granted, Holmes lost, but he was 3 up with five holes to play, forcing an epic comeback by Woods.

Here's how the big-hitting Kentuckian nearly pulled off the upset, and the lessons he and his Cup mates can take from that mesmerizing day:

Be defiant
Holmes started this season outside the top 100 in the World Ranking, but you wouldn't have known it at Dove Mountain. He looked more like he was playing a class B clod from Kalamazoo than the world's most famous athlete, routinely walking ahead of Woods, turning his back to him on the tees and greens, and making exactly zero chitchat.

This cold approach is familiar to Ryder Cup captains Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo from their own careers, and the U.S. team should follow suit. Sure, Padraig Harrington has won three of the last six majors, and he and Sergio Garcia are the hottest players in the game. Proper response from the Yanks: So what?

Get up early
Taking the early lead means hitting first off the tee, which means being able to put pressure on your opponent. Holmes went 1 up when Tiger hit his opening drive O.B. right, and he took advantage because he was able to ...

Make the 5-15 footers
This point can't be overemphasized, because at this level most everyone can hit the ball close to the pin. But can you control your breathing and pace enough to drain putts? Holmes may have been putting with a long wand, but he looked as good on the greens as a European Ryder Cupper.

Give away nothing
Here's what made the ESPN highlights that day in Arizona: Tiger's miles of made putts on the back nine. Here's what went overlooked: On a day when he otherwise made Woods work for everything, Holmes gave away the par-3 8th hole by hitting his tee shot into a cactus-filled ravine.

What made it worse was that immediately before Holmes's misfire, Woods had slammed his club into a tee marker, breaking the marker. He was literally cracking. After the Kentuckian's wide-right tee shot, Woods, about to go from 2 down to just 1 down, smiled for the first time all day.

Team America has six rookies, and Europe will be expecting some charitable contributions from them. This cannot happen if Zinger and the boys are to have a reasonable chance on Sunday.

Go glacial
Holmes is a human rain delay, as Woods noted in his post-round press conference, and Europe is famous for slow-playing the Americans. It's a way to control the tempo of the match, and drive your opponent batty. Exhibit A: Harrington's leisurely 100-yard walk to inspect the 17th green in his singles match against Mark O'Meara in 1999. Of course, Harrington won the match.

No matter how they usually play, the U.S. players would do well to slow down a bit.

Strut
The chorus of "Ole, ole" reminds American Ryder Cup players they are losing. If Team USA can figure out a way to take the lead in this thing, American players will want to find similarly annoying ways to remind the Europeans they are losing. Good: The macho strut of Holmes after he hits a tape-measure shot off the tee. Better: Loud, semi-obnoxious-but-clever exhortations from crazed Kentuckians.

What will the locals come up with? Louisville, you have your homework.

 

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