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Lehman - "Time for US to win"

One by one, they avoided the issue like a 3-foot downhill putt on a slippery green. Finally, Tom Lehman finally stepped up to say what his U.S. Ryder Cup team-mates wouldn't.

"We need to win," Lehman said. "That's all there is to it."

With just two wins in the last 14 years, there is more than just the sense of urgency talked about by captain Ben Crenshaw for the U.S. team that begins play Friday in the 33rd Ryder Cup.

Loaded with talent and facing a European team full of Ryder Cup rookies, this might be the best chance the Americans ever get to break the recent European domination of the series.

And no one knows it better than Lehman, a member of the last two losing teams.

"I fully expect us to play our best golf, and I expect us to win," Lehman said. "I have full and complete confidence in the other 11 guys on this team and myself. And I think it's a must-win for us."

To get that win, the American team must avoid on the small greens of The Country Club what it did two years ago at Valderrama -- self-destructing in the alternate shot and best-ball matches that precede Sunday's singles.

And that has put the pressure on Crenshaw to come up with pairings from his star-studded team that take advantage of what to most professional golfers are unfamiliar formats.

"It's a terribly hard and complex thing to do," Crenshaw said. "I certainly have some things in mind. My problem now is leaving four guys out the first day because I feel a lot of guys are playing well. I feel all 12 of our guys are playing well."

Tiger Woods against teen sensation Sergio Garcia, of course, is the match most golf fans want to see on Sunday with the Ryder Cup on the line.

That may not happen, but it's entirely possible that Woods and David Duval might be paired on Friday or Saturday against the likes of Garcia and countryman Jose Maria Olazabal.

"It's certainly a possibility," Crenshaw said. "I'd say it's very safe that both are going to play a lot. I don't know if you'll see that pairing on the first day, though."

Woods and Duval practised together in the rain Wednesday, as Crenshaw followed members of the American team around the course to try and get an idea which players he'll pair together on Friday -- and which will sit out play.

Woods, who did not join the eight U.S. players who played practice rounds last month at the course, saw it for the first time this week. But he rejected any criticism of himself or other Americans for not being passionate about defending the cup.

"I don't go to a tournament to lose," Woods said. "I don't think any of these guys do either. It just so happens that they've beaten us and we've beaten them."

Woods, who was 1-3-1 in 1997 when the United States fell behind 10-1/2-5-1/2 after the first two days and failed to regain the cup at Valderrama, has played spectacularly this year and is coming off a win at the PGA Championship last month.

Duval was just as hot early in the year, and was the No. 1 golfer in the world before Woods overtook him.

"I haven't seen anybody play better in the game of golf in the last two or three years than Tiger Woods," Mark O'Meara said. "I know David has played extremely well, too. But Tiger Woods has got something very, very special."

If Woods is the on course leader of the U.S. Team, the Europeans may look to an unlikely source for their leadership.

On a team with seven rookies, Garcia is the youngest at the age of 19. But he's also the most watched, and probably the one most likely to rally his team-mates with his play.

"I just want to get a lot of points so we can keep the cup," Garcia said.

European captain Mark James doesn't figure to hesitate putting Garcia in the early matches, although he has been tight-lipped about which players will be paired together in the alternate shot and best ball play.

His options always start and end with Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, the most seasoned player on the team. But the team also include a few surprise players such as Paul Lawrie, the British Open winner, and Jean Van de Velde, the Frenchman whose collapse on the final hole at Carnoustie allowed Lawrie to win.

"I have no qualms about Jean's ability to cope with the pressure at all," James said. "After 71 holes at the Open he was absolutely fantastic. He played magnificently under pressure. The last hole, well, when the French go down, they go down in flames and that was a classic example."

One thing both teams agreed on during practice was that The Country Club was both fair and in excellent condition.

Though rain fell Wednesday and the course received five inches last week, the forecast calls for good weather over the weekend that should help dry out the soft greens and fairways.

"I think everybody is ready for Friday," said Payne Stewart, who watched on television as the U.S. Team lost the last two cups. "I know I am. This is something I've looked forward to all year long, and I'm very excited about being back."


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