American rookies do just fine in Ryder Cup

September 21, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky.(AP) The Americans did just fine with all those Ryder Cup rookies.

Hunter Mahan finally felt as though he belonged. Anthony Kim brought out the best in Phil Mickelson. And Boo Weekley sure got under the Europeans’ skin, giving Valhalla Golf Club the feel of a college football stadium while skirting the line on good decorum.

U.S. captain Paul Azinger played all six of his rookies Friday, and they justified his faith by going 3-2-3 – surely better than anyone expected in the pressure cooker of golf’s grandest team event. In all, the newcomers had a hand in four of the 5 1/2 points won by the Americans, who took a commanding three-point edge into Saturday.

The ones who didn’t earn a point were Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis, beaten by Ian Poulter and Justin Rose in the only outright U.S. loss of the day.

“I put a lot of rookies out there,” Azinger said, “and they did well. I’m proud of them.”

Weekley teamed with another yet another rookie, J.B. Holmes, to halve the final match of the afternoon, a back-and-forth, best-ball showdown with Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen.

All around the course, Weekley revved up the crowd by flapping his arms. They responded with chants of “Boooo!” that were really cheers.

But Westwood thought Weekley went too far with his raucous celebration at No. 12 after he holed a 50-foot birdie putt from off the green, putting the American duo ahead for the first time since the opening hole. Westwood, who still had a putt to halve the hole, glared at Weekley.

“You walk a fine line when you start doing that sort of thing,” Westwood said. “I don’t mind raising your arms and whipping the crowd up. But at 12, when Boo’s holed off the back, I’ve still got a putt for a half. There’s no need to do it between shots. At least wait until we’re walking off the green. It was interrupting the flow of play.”

Weekley shrugged off the criticism.

“We miss over there (in Europe), they clap and holler and hoot,” the homespun Floridian said. “What’s the difference?”

Weekley and Holmes went to the 18th with a 1-up lead, but both knocked their tee shots in the water. The Europeans were able to escape with a half-point, and Westwood seemed to relish sticking to it the U.S. team.

“It’s not my job to tell people how to behave,” the Englishman said. “It certainly gave me a more burning desire to win some holes.”

With a pinch of snuff tucked into his jaw, Weekley said he was just enjoying the moment.

“It blew my expectations out of the water,” he said. “All the people hollering and hooting and cheering, just pulling for you. It’s unreal. It’s kind of like going to a college football game and being there with a helmet on your head. That’s what I reckon it feels like.”

While no one stirred things up like Weekley, Mahan was the most productive rookie. The 26-year-old got off to a shaky start – he and Leonard dropped the first two holes of their morning match – but they bounced back for a 3-and-2 win over Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey.

In the afternoon, the American duo led all the way in a 4-and-3 rout of Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez – the first foursomes loss on Garcia’s stellar Ryder Cup resume.

“I was just trying to go out and play golf, make it as simple as I can,” Mahan said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

That was a far cry from his attitude a year ago, when he was selected to the Presidents Cup team as a captain’s pick.

“I questioned whether I belonged there,” Mahan said. “I felt like I deserved to be on the team, but personally I didn’t think I was there. I felt more together this year, this week. I feel like I’m good enough to be here.”

No doubt. While Leonard did most of the heavy lifting – especially in the afternoon best-ball match – Mahan chipped in to help the Americans win five of the 15 holes, four of them with birdies.

“I’m a good enough player to play with these guys,” Mahan said.

The fiery Kim seemed to stir Mickelson to new heights. They read putts together, discussed strategy and exchanged so many high-fives – Kim is only 23, after all – that both sets of hands must have been stinging by the end of the day.

Making it all the sweeter: Mickelson and Kim fell behind by three holes in each of their matches, but rallied for a half point in the morning against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson, then came back to beat Harrington and Graeme McDowell 2-up in the afternoon.

“We played with a lot of heart and emotion,” Mickelson said. “I love playing with this guy tight here. Anthony has got this youthfulness to him, he has a lot of game and we had a lot of fun.”

Kim sure enjoyed himself in his first Ryder Cup appearance.

“It’s definitely lived up to the hype,” he said.

Speaking of hype, what’s next in the simmering Weekley-Westwood feud. Neither was scheduled to play in the Saturday morning matches, which was especially shocking in Westwood’s case. This will be the first time he’s sat out a session in his Ryder Cup career, as captain Nick Faldo apparently decided it was more important to rest him.

But he’ll surely return in the afternoon, and maybe Weekley will be on the opposing team.

Bring it on, Boo said.

“I really don’t care if I did (upset Westwood), I really don’t,” Weekley said. “I ain’t there to make him mad or aggravate him or anything like that, but I want everybody here to enjoy what we got going on. I want them to pull for us and holler and hoot. As long as they’re quiet before he hits the shot, it won’t matter.”