Woosnam enjoys bubbly week at Ryder Cup

Sunday, September 24th 2006, 2:12 pm
By: News On 6

STRAFFAN, Ireland (AP) _ Standing on the balcony, the celebration in full swing, Ian Woosnam took a big swig of champagne. Way too big, in fact. It came spewing out of his mouth and bubbling through his nose.

That was, to be frank, the most adversity the winning Ryder Cup captain faced all week.

His European team wrapped up an 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory over the Americans on Sunday. Well before that, most golf experts were calling this the best European team ever.

After watching it come together, the only question was: Who couldn't have led this team to victory?

``The proudest moment of my life,'' Woosnam called it. ``When you've got 12 fantastic players and a back-room staff I've got, it made my job very easy.''

For the record, though, Woosnam's captaincy wasn't all smooth sailing.

He took criticism from the European press for not being as accessible or amiable or interesting or organized as his American counterpart, the losing Tom Lehman.

Woosie's biggest pre-event news came earlier this month, when he made a splash by choosing Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood as his wildcard players, then hamhandedly telling Thomas Bjorn, one of the players he passed over, about the choice rather casually at a pub.

Although Woosie's delivery might not have been ideal, the choices he made certainly were.

Westwood teamed with Clarke to win both their fourball matches. Westwood got half points with Colin Montgomerie in both foursomes games, while Clarke stood on the sideline and smoked cigars. On Sunday, Clarke and Westwood won in singles.

Nearly all of Woosnam's decisions looked like winners. It's what happens when you're coaching the better players.

``I think you look at the scoreboard, and that says everything about Woosie as a captain,'' Clarke said.

But it's probably not fair to let the scoreboard be the final judge of Lehman.

He came in with what NBC commentator Johnny Miller said were ``12 guys _ three of them are firing a 50-millimeter cannon and nine guys are shooting BB guns.''

To his credit, Lehman stayed away from any disruptive decisions, like in 2004 when Hal Sutton paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together, saying, ``I felt like history needed it. I felt like the fans needed it. And most of all, I felt like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods needed it.''

That pairing went 0-2 on the first day, and the whole idea was widely credited for leading to the avalanche that resulted in an 18 1/2-9 1/2 loss.

The score this time was the same. Lehman's critics will contend the captain didn't put his top three in the best position to win.

He kept Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods together for all four team matches, and they won only two. He put Phil Mickelson with Chris DiMarco three times, which produced no wins. But when he paired Mickelson with David Toms, Lefty lost there, too.

Lehman benched rookie J.J. Henry twice even though Henry was playing well. He also used a captain's choice on Scott Verplank but only used him in one of the two-man matches. Verplank complained Saturday, and Lehman appeased him by making him the last player to go out in the Sunday singles.

Those on the American side dreamed Verplank's match against Padraig Harrington might be very important. It wasn't. Verplank won it anyway to finish the week 2-0.

``Second-guessing is a waste of time,'' Lehman said. ``I do know that everything we did, we did for a reason, and with the best possible intention. But at end of day, you've still got to put the ball in the hole, and we didn't do that.''

The Europeans did. And Woosnam looks like a genius.

``I've had some criticism over the last few months, but that's gone and past,'' he said. ``We got the victory we wanted. I had 12 terrific guys to help me through it.''