NEWPORT, Wales – Every point in the Ryder Cup counts the same.
Some just matter more than others.
There's no way to know until the singles wrap up Monday whether finally taking a point off Tiger Woods was the game-changing moment for the European side. But after handing Woods his worst defeat ever at the Ryder Cup — ending his unbeaten partnership with U.S. teammate Steve Stricker in the bargain — Englishmen Lee Westwood and Luke Donald put their 6-and-5 victory in the conversation.
Their foursomes (alternate-shot) win was the first result posted Sunday, unleashing a tidal wave of blue that swept over the scoreboard and carried Europe from a 6-4 deficit at the start of the session to a 9 1/2-6 1/2 lead heading into the final day. Woods and Stricker had won both previous matches here, extending their streak of six straight wins in team competition dating back to the Presidents Cup.
"When you're playing Tiger, you just seem to up your game a little bit," said Westwood, who has squared off against Woods seven times in team matches since 1997 and has won six. He's also on the verge of supplanting Woods as the world's top-ranked golfer.
"I suppose he's got nothing to win, apart from the point, but he's got a big reputation," Westwood added, "and it seems like you go out with nothing to lose."
The same could be said about Phil Mickelson. But unlike Woods, who combined with Stricker to deliver two points, Mickelson went 0-3 playing alongside rookies Dustin Johnson — twice — and Rickie Fowler.
The losses in his eighth Ryder Cup gave Lefty a total of 17 — against 10 wins and six ties — the most of any U.S. team member ever. Raymond Floyd previously held the dubious distinction with a 12-16-3 career mark in the competition.
Lefty was beaten so badly in his three losses that one of the early questions to U.S. captain Corey Pavin was, "What's up with him?"
"He's had a few 6-footers that were very key putts, and if he makes those it's a different result. That's the way match play is," Pavin replied.
But the question a moment later made it apparent that even though Mickelson is the No. 2-ranked player in the world, he wasn't garnering much respect: "Where can you hide players like Phil Mickelson in a singles lineup?"
"There is nobody to hide, but thank you for asking," Pavin replied evenly. "I appreciate it."
Woods and Mickelson were expected to provide veteran leadership for a U.S. team that included five rookies. Remembering the biggest U.S. comeback in Ryder Cup history — an 8 1/2-3 1/2 stomping of Europe in the dozen singles matches at Brookline in 1999 — Woods said bravely, "We have done it before and no reason why we can't do it again."
"There have been special days," Mickelson concurred, "and we're going to need another one."
It's going to take a reversal of form by America's two biggest golfing stars.
Mickelson won the Masters in April, but since the U.S. Open he hasn't come close to winning again.
Woods arrived here at the end of his worst year ever as a pro. It came on the heels of a sex scandal that made global news when his SUV careened down the driveway of his Florida home after a contentious Thanksgiving dinner last November. But just as he has been a focal point in previous Ryder Cups, the Europeans made him a rallying cause.
Two months ago, young Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy said he wanted a shot at Woods, which caused the soon-to-be-deposed world No. 1 to quip, "Me, too."
But thanks to Stricker, who brought a steadying influence and solid putting stroke to the pairing, Woods and his close pal beat Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher in the opening-round fourball (better-ball) match 2 up, then came out in the foursome and handled Miguel Angel Jimenez and Peter Hanson 4 and 3.
Woods and Mickelson will get one last shot at turning things around. Unlike European captain Colin Montgomerie, who front-loaded his hottest players, Pavin chose to sprinkle the few Americans playing well throughout the lineup. Woods goes off in the eighth singles match against Francesco Molinari; Mickelson is in the No. 10 slot, facing Peter Hanson.
Asked for "the rhyme and reason" behind his lineup, Pavin wisecracked, "Basically, we sat up last night and said we wanted to win 12 points, what order do we put the guys out in?"
But a moment later, he explained he sent experienced players early, his hot players in the middle and "finished off with guys that can handle the pressure of a Ryder Cup on their shoulders."
Considering the way things have gone, Pavin has to hope there's still something to play for at the end.