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The Country Club may favour the Europeans

The Country Club in this suburb of Boston boasts one of the oldest golf courses in the United States, but it is most famous as the place where youth prevailed over experience -- and reputation.

That piece of history may bode well for the European team in this week's Ryder Cup matches -- a team with seven Cup rookies, including Sergio Garcia, a 19-year-old prodigy just months out of the amateur ranks.

The Country Club hosted the 1913 U.S. Open in which amateur Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old former caddie at the course, defeated two of the world's great golfers -- professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray of Britain -- in an 18-hole playoff.

Ouimet's stunning victory over the two established stars helped generate an explosion of interest in golf in the United States in the early part of this century.

Now, as the century nears its end, golf has become a truly international game and nothing symbolises that more than the Ryder Cup, biennial matches that pit 12-man teams from the United States and Europe against each other in three days of intense competition.

The US side for this week's matches boasts far more "name" players than the European squad. It features Tiger Woods and David Duval, the two top-ranked players in the world, and seven others in the top 15, including number four Davis Love.

The Europeans are led by world number three Colin Montgomerie and number five Lee Westwood, both Britons, and two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal of Spain, one of the best Ryder Cup players in the past decade.

However, the visitors also have seven players making their Ryder Cup debut, including Garcia, the Spanish teenager who turned professional this spring after a brilliant amateur career.

Will youth again prevail over experience, and reputation, at The Country Club this week?

With the Ryder Cup's unique match-play format anything is possible -- as Europe has proven repeatedly in recent matches, winning four of the last seven and drawing another to retain the cup.

And The Country Club's venerable old course is well-suited for exciting match play -- and definitely can be considered "a young man's course." Long and very hilly, it can wear out any golfer playing 36 holes in one day, as many Ryder Cup players will have to do.

The 7,033-yard, par-71 course, which has hosted three US Opens and numerous other national championships over the years, should lend itself well to match-play, especially foursomes and four-ball matches, in which players are often willing, or forced, to take chances.

It has at least two par-4 holes where players may be able to drive the green -- the 335-yard fourth and the 310-yard sixth -- and two par-5s that are reachable with two well-struck shots -- the 513-yard ninth and the 534-yard 14th.

There are several other "risk-reward" holes where a player may have to flirt dangerously with water or sand in seeking an advantage.

The course also has several holes with blind shots, which may favour players from Europe, where many of the old courses have that quirky feature.

There are three long par-3 holes -- 186, 190 and 197 yards -- with treacherous greens where a well-played tee shot can lead to birdie and a poor one will result in bogey or worse.

"This is a beautiful golf course," American Jeff Maggert, who won the million-dollar first prize in the Andersen Consulting match-play championship this year, said on Tuesday.

"It's difficult, but if you play well, you can go out and make birdies. If you play bad, you may not shoot under par."