NEWPORT, Wales — The question of the day here at Celtic Manor, as rain fell in buckets and even the ducks seemed annoyed, was this:
What if they held a Ryder Cup and it never finished?
That outrageous notion became a very real prospect when play was suspended for seven hours and 18 minutes Friday, raising the possibility of a Monday conclusion — and, yes, unfinished matches.
According to a previously little-known captains’ agreement, all play on Monday must halt at 6:43 p.m. (sunset) and any matches still on the course will be called halves and a champion crowned. Can you imagine if one team was ahead by one point but the trailing team was winning the last two matches left on the course when the witching hour arrived? That would be a Ryder Cup controversy for the ages.
That isn’t expected to happen, though Sunday’s weather forecast is not good. Whether it includes rain as heavy as Friday is uncertain, but some kind of a Monday finish is still a possibility.
Despite the delay, a Sunday finish isn’t out of the question thanks to quick thinking by tournament organizers. Gone are Saturday’s regular sessions — four four-ball and four foursomes matches. When Friday’s four-ball matches conclude Saturday morning, six foursomes (alternate shot) matches will go out. That will be followed by another round of four four-ball matches and two foursomes matches, which will hopefully end by mid-day Sunday. The traditional 12 singles matches will follow, and if there are no more stoppages, the Ryder Cup could feasibly be completed Sunday night. Even a slight holdup, though, means a Monday finish.
The new schedule has some fallout. Those who sat out Friday’s four-ball matches will now play only three matches — no more, no less. All 12 players will play the next two sessions, followed by the singles. So no players will sit out.
“I’m very happy with that,” European captain Colin Montgomerie said. “I had a difficult time getting down to 12 players, never mind eight.”
It means that some players the captains would have left out of alternate shot will have to play that format. Which also means that the captains may have to reconfigure their pairings. But, hey, that’s the Ryder Cup. It’s as much about strategy as it is about executing shots.
“I think it’s great,” Phil Mickelson said. “With the 12 best players here, it’s hard to have four guys sit. The fact that everybody’s playing is well deserved. Both teams are strong, it doesn’t favor one team or the other.”
Mickelson’s assessment is probably correct. The Americans have done slightly better in foursomes play in recent years but that was using only eight of the 12 eligible players. This is everybody at once, uncharted territory.
“I think I have more of a foursomes team than a four-ball team,” Montgomerie said, “and I am very confident and remain so.”
Which is exactly what a captain is supposed to say.
There is no way to anticipate the effects of the rescheduled games. The Americans have some big hitters who aren’t accurate, so alternate shot may not be their strength. But the course is playing long because it’s so wet, which means the American bombers have a distance advantage that may offset their accuracy disadvantage.
“I feel like this makes it a lot easier,” said U.S. captain Corey Pavin. “As I said before, sitting four guys out is brutal to do as a captain. It’s nice that all of our guys are going out. It’s going to be tremendous for the fans. They’re going to have six matches to watch as opposed to four.”
The mixed-up session times mean the foursomes pairings won’t be made until sometime Saturday morning and play will stop again Saturday evening with players somewhere on the course in the middle of matches. All things considered, it’s an excellent compromise that offers the chance of a Sunday finish, which is pretty much everyone’s preference.
“Well, we were always going to play eight foursomes anyway,” Montgomerie said. “What’s happening now is it’s all going on within one session, really, and we are all playing. I always said it was going to be difficult to leave out people. So I’m personally quite happy with the proposed timetable. We’ll see, of course, how happy I am with it on Sunday.”