STRAFFAN, Ireland – Tom Lehman and the U.S. Ryder Cup team had a hard time getting off the ground for their trip to Ireland, and European captain Ian Woosnam had a hard time getting to the course.

Travel difficulties aside, the U.S. team’s weighted-down flight landed in Dublin three hours late Monday morning as Woosnam greeted the team before making his way through heavy traffic to the K Club, where the matches will begin Friday.

Lehman, looking dapper and dressed fittingly in tweed on a rainy day, was at ease and took all questions in stride . The charter plane that carried all but Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk-who stayed in Europe following last week’s World Match Play Championship-from Washington was overloaded with baggage from players and wives.

When asked to point fingers at the culprits, Lehman pointed at himself.

“They couldn’t get my couch on, so I was disappointed about that,” Lehman joked. “My TV and the remote control had to stay home as well. The microwave they had to throw overboard. The kitchen sink stayed. The luggage did make it, though.”

One thing Lehman wasn’t willing to part with was tortillas. He said he has had trouble finding chips and salsa in Europe before, so he packed three bags of corn tortillas in his golf bag.

“So I figure that golf bag weighed about 500 pounds,” he said. “No wonder they couldn’t move it.”

Lehman could afford to be a bit loose. He has little to lose.

The Americans have lost four of the past five Ryder Cups. Their star players have played like anything but and the team features four rookies to Europe’s two. The U.S. team, for the first time in a very long time, is the heavy underdog in these matches.

Woosnam has a different challenge, and his demeanor indicated as much. The wee Welshman has an experienced, successful team that he’s expected to guide to Europe’s third straight win by, basically, not running the ship aground.

“I don’t want to feel that we’re favorites at all,” he said. “I want to feel like we’re going to get back in that team room and feel like we’re still underdogs. I still think it’s going to go down to the wire.”

Woosnam planned a quiet team dinner Monday night to be followed by a viewing of an inspirational video of past European team highlights.

Lehman’s plans extended to Friday morning. He said he had decided on which eight players he would send out for the four opening four-ball (or best ball) matches, although he wouldn’t cough up any names.

But Lehman was a little more concerned with this morning, when both teams will play their first official practice rounds. Much like the way the Europeans won over the U.S. crowd by signing autographs and shaking hands at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township two years ago, Lehman said he plans to launch a charm offensive Tuesday.

“I would say that these practice rounds need to be a little more fun, they need to be a little bit quicker and with a capital “Q,’ ” Lehman said.



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AP-NY-09-18-06 2040EDT


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