Seve Ballesteros smiled, snarled, cajoled, kibitzed, winced and

By Ron Sirak Associated Press Published:

Seve Ballesteros smiled, snarled, cajoled, kibitzed, winced and sometimes just watched as his European team had a near-sweep of the United States and took a stunning 9-4 lead into Sunday.

With three alternate-shot matches suspended by darkness and 12 singles matches still to play, Europe needed only 5 1/2 of the remaining 15 points to win the Cup outright and five points to retain it as defending champion.

"Time will tell," Ballesteros said coyly about his team's chances of keeping the Cup it won in 1995.

"It's true that we have a certain advantage," he said. "But there's still a long way to go. We have to keep working and fighting and never relax."

No team has ever trailed by more than two points going into singles play and won in the 31 previous Ryder Cups, and the United States would need to sweep the three suspended matches just to get that close.

Only four times in the 70-year history of the competition has a team trailed going into singles play and won _ including Europe in 1995, which trailed 7-9 and won 14 1/2-13 1/2.

A subdued Tom Kite, who said he was shell-shocked, put up a brave face after Europe won six of the seven points decided Saturday.

"It's not insurmountable," said the U.S. captain. "We'll have to play like crazy, but it's not insurmountable."

Playing like crazy may not do it.

After losing one match carried over from Friday's suspension and halving the other, the Americans trailed 4 1/2-3 1/2 and sent their best players out for the morning better-ball matches.

Fred Couples and Davis Love III, Justin Leonard and Brad Faxon, Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara, Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman could manage only a half point in their four better-ball matches.

And in three of those four matches the Americans were ahead going to the back nine only to watch the determined underdogs sprint past them.

"Three of the four major championship winners were out there," Mickelson said, referring to Woods, Leonard and Love. "And they beat all of us. Give them credit, they figured out how to beat us."

It was a true team effort by the Europeans.

Woods and O'Meara were 6-under par _ and lost.

Leonard made five birdies and an eagle but got no help from Faxon _ and lost.

Couples and Love were 5-under par _ and lost.

Lehman and Mickelson were 5-under par _ and only managed to halve.

"They definitely are doing all the things you need to do to win matches," Lehman said. "When one guy is in the tank, the other guy makes a birdie."

In one stunning stretch of golf, Leonard made four birdies and an eagle in seven holes, yet he and Faxon gained no ground against Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn, who defeated them 2 and 1.

In another burst of brilliant play, Woods and O'Meara made five birdies in eight holes against Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood and lost ground, eventually dropping the match 2 and 1.

Time and again, the Europeans made crucial putts. Time and again, the Americans watched key putts spin out of the cup _ especially on the crucial closing holes.

"We started out strong, then they righted the ship on the back nine and played much better than we did," Kite said.

Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke never led in their match against Couples and Love until No. 17.

Woosnam and Bjorn couldn't get in front of Leonard and Faxon until the 13th hole.

And Faldo and Westwood first got the lead against Woods and O'Meara on No. 15.

"The Americans got off to a great start on the first nine and we just plowed back and plowed back," Woosnam said. "We've played the best golf over the last few days."

Every time the Europeans got a lead in a match, their putting seemed to get better and the Americans' putting got worse.

"They severely out-putted us," Kite said. "Even our guys who putt well were out-putted."

Couples and Love lost their match to Montgomerie and Clarke 1-up while Mickelson and Lehman halved with Jose Maria Olazabal and Ignacio Garrido after Mickelson missed a 4-foot eagle putt on No. 17.

The first point of the day came when Faldo and Westwood closed out Leonard and Jeff Maggert 3 and 2 in an alternate-shot match suspended by darkness Friday. The victory gave Faldo a record 24 points in Ryder Cup play.

Lehman and Mickelson halved their alternate-shot match carried over from Friday against Garrido and Jesper Parnevik.

The only afternoon alternate-shot match that concluded on Saturday had Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer defeating Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk 1-up.

Of the matches stranded on the course, Faldo and Westwood trailed Scott Hoch and Jeff Maggert 1-up through 14 holes; Parnevik and Garrido were even with Woods and Leonard through seven holes; and Olazabal and Costantino Rocca were 1-up against Love and Couples through seven holes.

One of the most amazing aspects of the day was that nearly every time a European pair did something spectacular, Ballesteros was there offering advice, cheering them on or just watching.

"Seve is the same way as a captain as he was as a player," Lehman said. "Seve has the kind of personality that can be intimidating. If a match gets down a hole or two, he just vaporizes out of nowhere."

At times it seemed as if there were a dozen clones of Seve Ballesteros at Valderrama. And at times it seemed like there were more than two Europeans playing against the American pairs.

Lehman, who has been one of the most reliable of the Americans, said the success of the Europeans came from how well they meshed as a team.

"There hasn't been one guy that's played well from start to finish," Lehman said. "It's been mostly ham and egging," he said, using the golfer's phrase to describe when two opponents alternate having good holes.

Lehman sought comfort in that, going into singles play.

"I think those guys can be had," Lehman said. "I like our chances in singles."

He'd better like them a lot. It will take an incredible Sunday for the U.S. team to bring home the Ryder Cup. In fact, it will take a record-setting Sunday.

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