Chicago gets first taste of Ryder Cup

by Allan Kelly, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 26 2012 01:45 PM | Updated as of Sep 26 2012 09:45 PM

CHICAGO, Illinois - The Ryder Cup came to Chicago for the first time on Tuesday as the US and European teams got their first taste of the largely-remodelled Medinah Country Club No.3 course.

The early consensus was that when the 39th edition of golf's most spectacular event gets going on Friday, there will be birdies galore, even some eagles and that chip-ins from the scarce rough around the greens will be a common occurrence.

The event, in short, will be much more in keeping with the 2008 competition at Valhalla in Kentucky when the United States won for the only time in the last 13 years.

The weather forecast for benign, near-perfect playing conditions for the rest of the week, in stark contrast to the wild weather that nearly wrecked the event at Celtic Manor, Wales two years ago, was further cause for US optimism.

Davis Love has exercised his rights as skipper of the hosts to have the final say in the layout of the course and he has opted for less rough and wider fairways - especially around the 280- 290-yards mark to encourage the long-hitters.

"It's more my personal preference for the style of golf I like to watch and I like to play," he said.

"I've just never been a fan of driving it in the rough and chipping it out and playing a wedge game.

"Match play, the Ryder Cup, is a whole different animal (to the majors), and we want it to be fun for the players and we want it to be fun for the fans."

There was no shortage of big-time support for the US players as they went about their first practice session with such as showbiz celebrities Bill Murray and Justin Timberlake joining up with retired Chicago sports stars such as Ernie Banks (baseball), Richard Dent (American football), Stan Mikita (ice hockey) and Scottie Pippen (basketball) in a challenge match with previous US captains.

Things were quieter on the European front where the main talking point was the decision to honour the late Seve Ballesteros by carrying a silhouette image of his famous clenched-fist celebration at the the 18th hole of the 1984 Open at St Andrews on the front section of their bags.

Coach Jose Maria Olazabal, who formed the greatest ever Ryder Cup pairing with his legendary Spanish compatriot, said that the choice of that silhouette "was pretty obvious."

"He always said that that was the sweetest moment in his career, winning at St. Andrews, making that putt to beat Tom Watson.

"Obviously, it's tough for me, as it's the first time that Seve (who died from a brain tumour in May, 2011) is not going to be with us at the Ryder Cup.

"He has meant a lot to me and to the team, and I wanted to have something that was present to each and every player.

"We came up with the idea that it would be nice to have Seve's silhouette, and so every time somebody gets to grab a club or something from the bag they can see the silhouette."

Tiger Woods returned to Ryder Cup action on US soil for the first time in eight years, having missed the win at Valhalla four years ago through injury and he expressed delight at being back in the Chicago area and at Medinah where he won the US PGA Championship in 1999 and 2006.

"I've always loved coming here. I enjoy playing in Chicago, and for some reason, I've just had a lot of success here," he said.

"I don't know what it is. But I seem to be very, very comfortable her.

Practice continues on Wednesday with the opening ceremony scheduled for Thursday afternoon when the pairings for Friday morning's foursomes alternate balls will be revealed.

The afternoon will be devoted to the fourballs with the whole thing repeated on Friday before Sunday's closing blast of 12 singles.

Europe needs to score 14 points out of a possible 28 to retain the cup, while the United States must score 14 1/2 to regain the trophy.

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