Out of the Rough: Brookline comparisons miss the mark

It's almost perfect that Jose Maria Olazabal is the captain of a European Ryder Cup that is down 10-6 with the singles to go.

By now, you've heard that the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history came at Brookline when the Americans thumped the Europeans in singles. The U.S. overcame a 4-point deficit on a magical Sunday and when Justin Leonard's long birdie putt at 17 fell, it all but guaranteed the half-point required for victory.

Yes, his European opponent had a putt and we all remember the ugly scene with the Americans storming the putting surface. That European player waited patiently for the U.S. to get off his green, so he could concentrate on making an 18-footer to halve the hole and put the true American celebration on hold.

That European opponent 13 years ago was Jose Maria Olazabal.

He didn't make his putt and the U.S. won the Ryder Cup. Showing the heart of his fellow Spanish Ryder Cup star and dear friend, Seve Ballesteros, Ollie made a long birdie on the 18th hole to pull out a gutsy halve, albeit, an inconsequential one.

"Regarding '99, there are three moments that I remember very vividly," Olazabal said Saturday night. "The start that the U.S. team had, having reds straight away winning the first few matches; 17 green with Justin; and all the players after the matches were over in the locker room and seeing I would say more than half of the players crying all together there, me included."

You will hear a lot about Brookline on Sunday. It's the only historical reference for the undertaking the Europeans have in the singles. No team, other than Ben Crenshaw's squad, overcame a 4-point hole on Sunday.

But this is not Brookline.

For starters, the Americans pulled off that epic turnaround on home soil. The Europeans are a continent away from their home crowd. Part of the steamrolling of '99 was how the gallery responded to every Hal Sutton putt, or Davis Love III iron shot.

The Europeans won't have that on Sunday. They have their faithful at Medinah, sure, and Luke Donald lives in Chicago, but American fans have waited four years for this moment and it wouldn't matter if Donald lived in a tent on the first tee, he's playing Bubba Watson and that mob scene on No. 1 tee will be pro-Bubba.

The aspect of the Brookline comeback that isn't spoken of enough was the massive tactical error in the singles lineup by then European captain Mark James.

He was masterful and rode his lead dogs through the team session. Sergio Garcia, Jesper Parnevik, Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Paul Lawrie and Miguel Angel Jimenez played every team match. Padraig Harrington and Olazabal traded spots playing with Jimenez each day.

Andrew Coltart, Jean van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin didn't play a minute until the singles. Apparently James didn't realize the Americans would have to front-load their lineup to have any chance of coming back because he sent those three men out in early positions. And, James sent them out in a row, in Nos. 3-5. They drew Love, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. That was three automatic points and when Tom Lehman and Sutton did their jobs in the first two, it was off to the races.

Love knew what Olazabal had to do on this Sunday and countered. Love knew Ollie would throw out studs in the first four matches and he did with Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose.

Love sent Watson, Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley and Mickelson in those spots. There would be no sacrificial lambs in red, white and blue.

Days like that Sunday at Brookline happen once in a lifetime. That wasn't meant to be flowery prose. Literally, a comeback like the U.S. made in 1999 has happened once in the history of the Ryder Cup, which dates back to 1927.

The Europeans will be decked out in Seve colors on Sunday, navy blue and white. Olazabal will take it a step farther with Seve's silhouette on their shirts.

Players on Sunday morning are tweeting things with the hashtag, #Seve.

Ballesteros' spirit lives in the European players. He is the hero of them all and Olazabal cried when Seve's name was brought up during the opening ceremony.

Positive thoughts, the memory of Ballesteros and the late-day heroics of Poulter, who birdied the last five holes with McIlroy to get a win in the anchor match, will help the Europeans believe it's possible.

And it is. It's just unlikely.

The Europeans have momentum on their side from the terrifyingly good performance of Poulter in the waning light of Saturday night. They don't have history on their side.