Europe fired up for Ryder defence
Harrington, Mickelson let clubs do the talking as Faldo accidentally leaks pairings.
Last Modified: 18 Sep 2008 15:00 GMT

Harrington's first victory came in 1996 at the Spanish Open [GALLO/GETTY]
Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson are the reluctant leaders of this Ryder Cup.

Both are three-time major champions.

Harrington has won the last two, the British Open and PGA Championship.

Just don't look for either to provide stirring words or wear their emotions on their sleeves at Valhalla Golf Club, where the three-day competition opens on Friday.

"Hopefully I'll lead by example this week and by approaching the game the
right way," Harrington said.

"Not allowing myself to get too high or too low in the course of matches."

Playing well

The American team has six rookies but no Tiger Woods, who is recovering from knee surgery.

Mickelson would seem the logical candidate to carry the US team into golf's grandest team event.

But Mickelson deferred to US captain Paul Azinger, who won't swing the club at all this weekend.

"My only responsibility is to play well," Mickelson said.

"I think captain Azinger has been a wonderful leader for us.

"He's been a great captain and given us great direction."

No Monty

For Europe, where's Monty when you need him?

Colin Montgomerie thrived in this format.

Teammates that found him awkward in the week-to-week grind of tournament play rallied around him when they were all working toward the same goal.

But Montgomerie wasn't chosen for this European team, which leaves Sergio Garcia as the most likely emotional leader for the defending champs.

That's just fine with Harrington.

"I don't get the highs and lows that maybe other guys get," the Irishman said.

"I tend to keep it nice and solid and consistent."

Unimpressive record

Harrington's Ryder Cup record is rather unimpressive: seven wins, eight losses and two ties, but he did come through for the Europeans in 2004.

Paired with Montgomerie in the first match at Oakland Hills, they took on the American dream team of Woods and Mickelson.

When Mickelson pushed his drive at No. 18 up against a fence, the Europeans finished off an upset that set the tone for the entire match.

The visitors romped to their biggest win ever on American soil, and matched their margin two years ago at the K Club in Harrington's homeland.

Best season

Harrington is hoping to put the finishing touches on a magical season.

After Woods won the US Open, then headed off to have surgery on an ailing knee, the Irishman stepped in to fill the void as the world's top player.

First, he defended his title at the British.

Then, a follow-up in the PGA Championship.

Over the last six majors, he's won half the time.

"It would be fair to say I'm a late bloomer and I'm coming into the prime of my career at 37 years of age," he said.

"I've been more focused on going out there and winning major tournaments by giving myself a chance in a number of them. ... I do expect to be there in the future and win some more."

Faldo was caught out by British photographers who caught an early glimpse of the pairings [GALLO/GETTY]
Irish pairings

As for his more immediate plans, Harrington expects to be paired up in at least one of his Ryder Cup matches with Graeme McDowell.

The first-day pairings will be revealed at the opening ceremony, though European captain Nick Faldo might have tipped his hand a bit when a British photographer caught his notebook jottings with a zoom lens.

Faldo had the initials "RK" and "PH" listed together, which would indicate he's considering matching Robert Karlsson with Harrington.

"I don't think it would take any genius to figure out that I will play with the other Irishman on the team at some stage this week," Harrington said.

Mickelson's track record

Mickelson's Ryder Cup record is even worse than Harrington's 9-12-4.

Even so, he claims to relish the experience as he heads into his seventh appearance.

"The week becomes a week where friendships are formed and memories occur that last a lifetime," he said.

"When you're playing in them, you don't realize that's the case, but now that I've played in six, this is my seventh Ryder Cup, I look back at all my previous ones ... That's what I look forward to the most, getting to know the guys and hanging out with all the guys and having a fun week."

Mickelson is aiming to come out firing [GALLO/GETTY]

Mickelson considers the Americans a clear underdog, even with the home-course advantage.

"I don't feel there's a question about that," he said.

"But it doesn't mean we can't come out and play well, with the help of the crowd and with a golf course that's very well suited for many of our players, have a great week and possibly come out on top."

The Americans have lost five of the last six matches to Europe, including three straight.

Mickelson points to a more impressive record in golf's other major team event, the Presidents Cup.

Facing the rest of the world in alternate years, the US has lost once in seven matches.

"I feel like the Presidents Cup has given us team competitions, team experiences, that we've done very well and succeeded in," Mickelson said.

"I don't know why we haven't been able to play at the same level in the Ryder Cup."

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