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What U.S. needs to win Ryder Cup

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It has been nine long and sometimes embarrassing years since the American team has had the pleasure of showering each other in champagne after a Ryder Cup victory.

The Europeans have won three in a row and five of the past six matches, the past two by lopsided 9 1/2-point margins.

There was a time when a European victory was considered a surprise. That seems ages ago.

The axis has tilted the other way, leaving the Americans as underdogs at Valhalla Golf Club this week.

If the Americans are going to win – without Tiger Woods – here are five things that must happen:

1. Beat Sergio Garcia

His 14-4-2 record speaks for itself, but Garcia's impact reaches beyond the numbers.

He is a different player in the Ryder Cup. Putts that burn edges in majors fall into a hole that must look like a bucket to him in the Ryder Cup. He plays off passion and the modern Ryder Cup is built on passion.

He has owned Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup and is unbeaten in eight alternate-shot matches. Just denting Sergio's armor would be a start.

2. Get Phil Mickelson involved.

Lefty might say he loves the Ryder Cup, but it doesn't look that way. If the Americans are going to win, it would help to have their biggest star playing quarterback.

That seems unlikely, though.

“My only responsibility is to play well,” Mickelson said Tuesday, dumping the leadership load on the shoulders of captain Paul Azinger.

If he's not going to play Uncle Sam, he at least needs to play better than he has. A 3-9-2 record the past three Ryder Cup coincides with the American troubles.

3. Get some help.

One reason the Americans have been hammered the past two Ryder Cups is because the Europeans have played so well and made so many key putts you lost count.

There's no way to play defense in golf, but it would help the Americans if the Euros missed a few times when it mattered.

It would help even more if the Americans could finish matches. Getting to the 18th hole has been a frightening prospect for the Americans, who keep finding ways to lose at the end.

4. Find a hero.

The Europeans have Sergio. In the past, they've had Colin Montgomerie. The Americans have had, well….no one, recently.

Two candidates come to mind this week – Kenny Perry and Anthony Kim.

At 48 and playing at home in an event he said will define his career, Perry might be the unlikely emotional centerpiece of the American team. If he plays well and puts a couple early points on the board, it could snowball.

As for Kim, he's the hot new face this year and he seems ideally suited for the Ryder Cup. He's aggressive and fearless and doesn't have the scar tissue from earlier matches.

5. Engage the crowd.

The Ryder Cup is a partisan event that should feel like a football game, and there is such a thing as a home-course advantage.

The Americans surrendered it four years ago in Detroit when the Europeans came out signing autographs, posing for photos and working the crowd on practice days. The Americans grimly went about their business.

To counteract it, Azinger has his players tossing Ryder Cup lapel buttons to fans during practice, and attending a downtown pep rally this evening.

If he sends out Kentuckians Perry and J.B. Holmes in the first match Friday morning, Azinger will be playing his trump card immediately.

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