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2004 Ryder Cup to start with fourballs

OK, so the Ryder Cup is nine months away, but captain Hal Sutton is already thinking of things to help the United States regain possession of the priceless piece of hardware.

Sutton says the first day of the 2004 Matches (Sept. 17-19) at Oakland Hills C.C. outside of Detroit will begin with the fourball format. The U.S. and Europe will have four two-man teams competing in an event in which each player plays his own ball on every hole. The best score between the two teammates will be the team's score for the hole. It's normally called best ball at your local club.

"We've got kids, I should say young men, that haven't been on a Ryder Cup team before or an international competition," Sutton said. "If I played foursomes first, you tend to feel like you're thrown to the wolves. Every shot you hit counts in foursomes."

In foursomes, or alternate shot, one player tees off and his teammates hit the next shot until the ball is holed.

Shreveport's David Toms, the U.S. team's leading point getter in a Ryder Cup loss to Europe last year, thinks Sutton's decision is correct.

"Alternate shot is a lot of pressure," Toms said. "I remember how I felt, just trying to get the ball in the fairway off the first hole. The pressure is equivalent to a major championship, except this time it's not only you, it's your playing partner, your team and your country."

Toms is currently sixth in the U.S. Ryder Cup point standings. The top 10 in points after the 2004 PGA Championship in August will make the team automatically. Sutton will then make the captain's selections.

"Normally it's just you and you're out there on an island, when you have all these other factors having a partner to get started is a great idea," Toms said. "It's good to get some holes under your belt, get some shots into the competition before you throw somebody into the fire of having to hit the shot."

Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Chris Riley, Fred Funk and Jerry Kelly - who are in the top 10 right now - would be Ryder Cup rookies if they make the '04 team.

"Even if the other player is inexperienced, at least (in fourball) you've got somebody to fall back on," Sutton said. "For just getting your feet wet, I think fourball is the way to go first."

Sutton was honored at a dinner Monday night as the Independence Bowl's Spirit of Independence Award recipient. Sutton will also be part of a ceremony during halftime of Wednesday's game.

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