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European's don't mind the underdog tag

Europe is on foreign soil, playing with seven rookies against a star-studded U.S. team with far better world rankings -- just the role European players seem to relish in the Ryder Cup.

"It's nice being the underdogs," said Briton Lee Westwood on Wednesday before heading out for a practice round in the drizzle at The Country Club, where the biennial match-play competition begins on Friday.

"It means there's less pressure on us and more pressure on them. Great expectations for them to win, I suppose. It's in their country, so the pressure is building, I would imagine."

Westwood and his teammates are forever conveying the company line in a strategy designed to lighten their load, while turning up the pressure on the favored Americans, who hold a massive rankings edge on paper of 142-486, led by one-two punch Tiger Woods and David Duval.

Two years ago in Spain the Americans came in with Masters champion Woods, British Open champion Justin Leonard and PGA winner Davis Love and came out 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 Ryder Cup losers with that celebrated trio combining for a dismal 1-9-3 mark.

Four years ago at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York, Europe staged a stunning Sunday uprising in the singles to beat a favored U.S. team by the same 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 score.

Westwood, ranked fifth in the world, is not without confidence, mind you.

"I think we can beat anybody," said Westwood, who joins world number three Colin Montgomerie as the only Europeans among a world top 14, which includes nine Americans.

"I think this format leads to shocks. Certainly 18 holes is a very short space of time -- unlike the World Match Play where you play 36 holes in one day. So the chances are there for you to have a good round and beat anybody."

Mark O'Meara, the 1998 winner of both the Masters and British Open, was quoted as saying, "If we don't win, we'll get hammered."

Irishman Darren Clarke said there was a different attitude back home about the European Ryder Cup team. "I think the Europeans, people at home, are all hoping that we're going to win and not expecting us to win. And that's a huge difference."

This Ryder Cup marks a changing of the guard for Europe, which is competing without such notable fixtures as Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosman.

"I think everything changes from time to time," said Clarke. "Nick and Bernhard and Woosie, they've been around for a long, long time."

It will mark the first time in 22 years that Faldo is missing from a Ryder Cup competition. Faldo (11 teams), Langer (9) and Woosnam (8) have combined to score 62 Ryder Cup points with a cumulative 55-46-14 record.

"They've played fantastic for Europe," said Clarke. "They had their opportunity to qualify for the team again this time. They didn't quite manage to do it, so things move on. The European Tour is progressing. I think we're getting stronger."

Westwood said it may not be the end of the Ryder road for that famous threesome.

"I wouldn't write any of those three players off for qualifying for the next team," said the 26-year-old Englishman. "But the strength in depth in the European Tour is such that it's not as easy to get into Ryder Cup teams now. There's a wider choice of players to pick from as well."

Westwood got in a parting shot about pressure when asked if he detected pressure within the U.S. team.

"Well, they must be under pressure being the 12 best players in the world, mustn't they," he said, referring to a comment made Tuesday by Jeff Maggert. "According to themselves."


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