By WILL GRAVES
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Justin Leonard’s undefeated record through the first three matches of the Ryder Cup wasn’t enough to convince U.S. captain Paul Azinger to play Leonard during Saturday’s afternoon four-ball.
Leonard and Hunter Mahan rolled to a 3-0-0 record through the first three rounds, and Azinger sent Mahan back out for the afternoon matches. Mahan joined Phil Mickelson as the only American players to play in each of the first four matches.
Leonard felt he could have gone another 18 holes, but respected Azinger’s decision.
“I told Zinger, you know, I felt like I had some more in the tank,” Leonard said. “I wasn’t sure how much. And I think he wants me to be ready for tomorrow. … I’m going to use this rest to my advantage.”
Leonard wasn’t the only red-hot player who took the afternoon off. Europe’s Justin Rose asked captain Nick Faldo if he could sit out the four-ball matches even though he and Ian Poulter had gone 2-1-0 through three matches.
“I really felt like it was best for the team, should I sit out a bit,” Rose said. “I’ve got a bit of a sore wrist and a few little things that you just want to just take care of, no big deal.”
Valhalla marked the first time under the current Ryder Cup format that Europe had just one player compete in every session.
PAYNE’S SON: U.S. captain Paul Azinger had a special guest in his cart late Saturday afternoon – Aaron Stewart, the 19-year-old son of the late Payne Stewart, who was Azinger’s best friend on Tour.
The Americans have not won the Ryder Cup since Stewart played on the team in 1999 at Brookline. Six weeks later, Stewart perished in a plane accident.
TICKED TIGER: Michael Jordan knows how tense things can get during competition. So he took a little pity on European captain Nick Faldo during Friday’s opening round matches, playfully giving Faldo a neck massage.
Jordan, back at Valhalla on Saturday, admitted the move didn’t sit well with at least one Ryder Cup regular: Tiger Woods.
The world’s No. 1 golfer, watching the Cup on TV while recuperating from knee surgery, fired off a text to Jordan telling him to cut it out.
“He texted me when I was massaging (Faldo),” Jordan said. “He said ‘Get your hands off him and choke him instead of massage him.’ ”
Jordan has attended every Ryder Cup since 1997 and called it one of his favorite competitions in sports.
FLASHBACK: Justin Rose and Ian Poulter have been friends a long time, well before Poulter turned himself into arguably the most fashionable golfer this side of Jesper Parnevik.
To Rose, Poulter is still the chunky kid he played against as a junior, and the memories pop up at unexpected times.
Standing on the 14th green during their morning foursome match against Chad Campbell and Stewart Cink, Rose had a flashback.
“This feeling came over me, and he probably won’t thank me for saying this, but I said, ‘Come on Poults, the fat kid from Milton Keynes, knock it in,’ ” Rose said.
Poulter converted the putt as the English duo won, 4 and 3, their second win in three pairings during this weekend.
SERGIO SAVES THE DAY: Sergio Garcia found a way to make himself useful during the morning foursomes, even though the longtime European team star was sitting for the first time in his Ryder Cup career.
Riding along with assistant captain Jose Maria Olazabal, Garcia was standing behind the green watching Miguel Angel Jimenez and Graeme McDowell when a golf cart attempting to get up the bank spun its wheels and fell back.
Garcia leaned over to the driver and told him to back up and hit the hill running. After successfully making it up, the driver walked over and gave Garcia a high-five.
BOO ARE YOU?: Becoming one of the early U.S. heroes of this Ryder Cup hasn’t exactly made Boo Weekley a recognizable face.
When Weekley attempted to duck under a rope and head into the clubhouse before his afternoon foursomes match with J.B. Holmes, the security guard manning the gate stopped him in his tracks and asked Weekley for his credentials.
Weekley, wearing a blue U.S. Ryder Cup team jacket, tan slacks and a blue cap with his name on the back, raised out his arms and pulled out his team shirt before looking at nearby reporters for some help.
The guard, embarrassed, let Weekley into the clubhouse while a handful of Weekley supporters – several wearing “Red, White & Boo” T-shirts, laughed.
WEARING THE COLORS: U.S. captain Paul Azinger is borrowing a move from college sporting events to give Valhalla a more festive feel.
Azinger encouraged fans to wear blue to the course on Saturday and red on Sunday in support of the U.S. team. Azinger has implored fans to become the “13th man,” even creating T-shirts with that phrase splashed across the front.
Getting the fans to play dress-up is a tactic that’s worked well in Kentucky. Both the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have staged “White Out” and “Black Out” promotions during high-profile football and basketball games.
SOGGY START: A small batch of showers softened things up early Saturday morning, and had some of the players’ wives scrambling for rain gear.
Amy Mickelson was seen hustling down the first fairway after husband Phil, her arms full of stuff to bring the wives. The rain made going treacherous for spectators as they walked along the mounds and several photographers took a spill trying to make their way behind the green on No. 9.
The sky cleared as the morning went on with temperatures rising into the low-80s by the middle of the afternoon. Forecasters are calling for sun and temperatures in the 80s for singles play on Sunday.
SAY THAT AGAIN?: Players aren’t the only ones coping with nerves at the Ryder Cup.
The PGA of America asked former president M.G. Orender to announce the matches on the first tee, and there have been a few glitches. It started with the opening match Friday, when he introduced Padraig Harrington as “Harrison.”
Saturday afternoon, Orender had another slip of the tongue. He first announced Henrik Stenson as “Stevens.” Then he quickly changed it to “Stevenson.”
Orender at least got a mulligan. After introducing the European team, he again announced the Swede as first to hit, and correctly referred to him as “Stenson.” Orender held out his palms and rolled his eyes at Stenson to acknowledge the mea culpa.