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Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 09:09 GMT 10:09 UK
Ken Brown column
Ken Brown
By Ken Brown
BBC Sport golf commentator

US captain Tom Lehman (left) and European counterpart Ian Woosnam with the Ryder Cup
Lehman (left) and Woosnam will captain the US and Europe respectively

Europe go into this week's Ryder Cup as marginal favourites for the first time in my memory, but it will be an extremely close match.

The European team has a bit more experience, while the Americans have four rookies, who could be inspired and be world beaters or could dissolve and disappear completely.

Home advantage will also be a huge factor, not just because Europe will have the majority of the support but because they also know the K Club course much better than their opponents.

After Europe's record victory two years ago, new American captain Tom Lehman realised his side were missing a beat and has worked hard on bonding his side.

They have realised that it is the best team that wins, not the best 12 players.

Lehman pulled off a fantastic coup getting all of his players over to the K Club last month, no mean feat with these golfing superstars.

Woods just struggles to understand the huge hype and interest we have in the Ryder Cup here

Much has been made of these off-course manoeuvrings, but they have always been part of the game.

It is all about trying to give your side a little advantage, to get the pendulum swinging in your direction.

Every captain goes about the job in a different way. So far, you would have to say that Lehman's way has looked more effective than Ian Woosnam's.

Woosie has been one of the most popular players on tour for a long time.

He is the country boy who came good and won the Masters, but he openly admits that he does not particularly enjoy the public speaking role.

His way has been to stand back a bit and say, "You're all good golfers, you know what you have to do to qualify, go out there and do it and I'll see you the week of the race."

Hopefully, he will come out all guns blazing when the action starts.

Lehman has taken a much more hands-on approach and made sure everyone has been involved in discussions.

Tiger Woods (left) chats to Darren Clarke
Woods and Clarke could be talismans for their teams
But none of that ultimately counts for points, and it comes down to the team that plays the best and holes the most putts. It will not make any difference who starts as favourites.

The experienced players know the matches are decided by one or two crucial moments, such as someone holing a vital putt, or squeezing a half when it looked like they were going to lose, or making a silly error.

America's trump card is obviously Tiger Woods. He may not have the best record in the Ryder Cup but I believe he is as passionate to win for America as anyone else.

I get the feeling he is a pretty good team man and does not mind having a bit of fun and games. If he gets the right partner and they get some momentum, he'll be off and running.

Woods just struggles to understand the huge hype and interest we have in the Ryder Cup here.

He always asks how many singles matches Jack Nicklaus won in the event. Of course, no-one has a clue, but every golf person knows Nicklaus won 18 majors.

The Ryder Cup is won by two or three players having stellar weeks, winning four out of five points, and I would not rule out Darren Clarke being the absolute star of the event.

Following the very sad death of his wife Heather last month, he will get a reception like no-one has ever had before. The people of Ireland will be so behind him.

Clarke was in extremely sound form before his lay-off and can give anyone a match even with his B game.

So if he comes with his A game, or even his C game, he will be right in there.

Emotionally, once the event starts, he will be fine, and if he comes out firing we've got our very own Tiger Woods.

With 40,000 Irish fans screaming and shouting, it could be like the Country Club at Brookline in 1999, but hopefully with more focus on the golf.







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