Harrington, Westwood, Garcia come up empty

September 24, 2008

LOUISVILLE, Ky.(AP) Europe came to Valhalla with the stars, the experience and arguably the hottest golfer on the planet.

The Europeans left without the Ryder Cup, thanks in part to the Big Three that turned in a big zero.

Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington – who had combined for 35 victories during their storied Cup careers – went winless at Valhalla, managing just 2 1/2 combined points during a largely lifeless performance as the U.S. won the Cup for the first time in nine years.

Garcia and Westwood had been nearly unbeatable during Europe’s run of three straight Cup wins. Yet the magic – not to mention the clutch putts – that they delivered so often this decade never showed up in front of a rowdy gallery that seemed to delight in the visitors’ struggles.

Westwood called out budding U.S. star Boo Weekley during the week, saying Weekley’s fist-pumping, crowd-whooping antics straddled the line of good taste.

Things got particularly ugly on Sunday, when a guy dressed as a ghost jumped out and shouted “Boo” at Westwood as he was walking to the sixth tee. The man was ejected, but the heckling continued throughout the day.

“All the abuse I got was fairly nasty, and that was pretty shameful,” Westwood said. “Some people don’t know the difference between supporting their team and abusing the opposition, which is unfortunate.”

Normally the nearly unflappable Westwood thrives under the crucible of the Cup, but this Cup was anything but normal for Europe.

Westwood sat out the first session of his Cup career Saturday when European captain Nick Faldo decided to leave Westwood and frequent partner Garcia out of morning foursomes after Garcia said he could use a break.

The rest didn’t pay off with a victory.

Westwood and Soren Hansen dropped their afternoon match to Weekley and J.B. Holmes, and all Garcia and Paul Casey could manage was a half-point against Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis.

Needing a spark in singles play to jump-start a comeback, Faldo sent out Garcia first Sunday. It never happened against Anthony Kim, who played with the kind of fire that’s become part of Garcia’s trademark in the Cup. Kim played aggressively and never missed an opportunity to take advantage when Garcia’s play got away from him.

“It’s hard when you’re in those kind of situations, but unfortunately I just couldn’t get anything right today,” Garcia said. “I feel like I had a good chance, but I just couldn’t get anything right.”

Neither could Harrington.

The reigning British Open and PGA champion admitted he came to Valhalla drained and managed just an 0-2-1 record through the first two days. Still, Harrington asked Faldo if he could go last in singles on Sunday, hoping it would come down to him.

No chance.

Harrington led only briefly during his match against Chad Campbell, and lost all enthusiasm when the U.S. clinched the Cup up ahead of him on his way to a 2 and 1 loss.

“My game just wasn’t there this week, and it’s probably because of a long, hard summer,” Harrington said.

The stinging defeat will stick with Faldo for a while. He took considerable heat when he chose Casey and Ian Poulter with his wild card picks over longtime European stars Darren Clarke and Colin Montgomerie.

Though Poulter turned into the European’s bright spot, going 4-1-0, it wasn’t enough. Europe never led after any session and when Garcia fell flat against Kim, Faldo’s decision to backload his singles lineup with Westwood and Harrington backfired.

Faldo’s players, however, refused to blame the six-time major winner.

“We hold the golf clubs and we hit the shots, not the captain,” Westwood said.

Added Garcia: “It has nothing to do with Nick. At the end of the day, we are the guys that need to perform well on the course and we just need to be better on the guys we play. It’s not his fault.”

Garcia had been nearly unstoppable the last three Cups, losing just once and becoming the emotional spark plug who reveled in making big shots and irking the Americans.

This time whenever Sergio surged, the U.S. had an answer.

Garcia tried to pick himself up on Saturday, knocking in long birdie putt during his afternoon four-ball match, shouting “Come on, come on,” when the ball disappeared into the hole. Stricker responded by matching Garcia with a lengthy putt of his own and adding an uncharacteristic fist-pump on top of it.

It was more of the same on Sunday. Garcia’s loss to Kim dropped him to 1-4 in singles play, and this time he couldn’t take solace in a team victory.

“If I would have played better and I would have won my match … maybe we would be talking and writing a different story,” he said.