RYDER CUP : U.S. Gets Unlikely Boost : Golf: Beck, Cook called upon for first time and defeat Faldo and Montgomerie. Team trails Europe, 8 1/2-7 1/2, entering final day.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first 54 holes of the Ryder Cup, John Cook and Chip Beck had to watch along with the gallery, as if they were two blokes from Wolverhampton on a weekend outing.

And when they finally were called upon by U.S. captain Tom Watson to play Saturday afternoon, they were paired against Europe's most formidable team, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.

From the smiles on the faces of about 30,000 spectators at the Belfry as they confidently added a point for the European side, one would have thought Watson had asked two sunbathers to swim the English Channel.

"I don't think Nick and Colin took anything for granted, but I bet everybody else thought it was going to be a walkover," Cook said later. "That's not going to happen with Chip and me."

Sitting to Cook's left in the press tent, Beck added: "You underestimate John Cook and Chip Beck, you're going to have two tough men to deal with."

If that sounds like dialogue from a truly mundane action movie, Cook and Beck can be forgiven. They deserved to boast after a two-hole best-ball victory over Faldo and Montgomerie, virtually ensuring that the 30th Ryder Cup will be a cliffhanger.

The Europeans have an 8 1/2-7 1/2 lead entering today's 12 decisive singles matches, 11 if their Sam Torrance is unable to play because of a blister on his little toe. The captains were required to submit their lineups without consulting with each other, so some of the matches must have been made in golf heaven. Check out Paul Azinger vs. Faldo, Lanny Wadkins vs. Seve Ballesteros, Fred Couples vs. Ian Woosnam, Tom Kite vs. Bernhard Langer.

Historically, the Americans have the advantage in singles. Since the two sides began playing the current format in 1977, Europe has won more matches on the last day only once, in 1985 at the Belfry. But if the first two days here this year have proved anything, it is that this Ryder Cup business is no longer predictable.

The same can be said for golf in recent years. Who would have thought when Sam Ryder donated some of the fortune he earned selling garden seeds seven decades ago toward the purchase of the cup that bears his name that some day Italians and Swedes would be among the world's best players?

They were represented for the first time in the Ryder Cup on Saturday, Italy by Costantino Rocca and Sweden by Joakim Haeggman. Both went down to defeat in the afternoon best-ball matches, but that hardly detracted from the significance of the occasion.

And the United States sent out a 51-year-old man, the oldest ever to play in the Ryder Cup, not only for the morning alternate-shot foursomes but also for another round of best ball in the afternoon. Because his name is Ray Floyd and his game is burning holes through steel with his stare, no one made any Geritol jokes. Besides, they would not have been appropriate because he and his partner, Payne Stewart, were the only Americans to win twice Saturday.

At the end of two days of competition, after which many players had been on the course for 54 holes and some for 72, virtually everyone on both teams felt as if they were ready for the senior tour. As a result, the golf, in general, was not as sparkling as it had been Friday, but some of it was.

Corey Pavin hit a nine-iron shot from 149 yards on the fifth hole, ordered it to "Get in!" the hole, and it did.

He received polite applause from the heavily partisan crowd.

"It was an interesting reaction, some cheers and some stunned-type noise," Pavin said. "It was strange, not like the type cheers I've gotten before when I holed the shot."

But if the crowd did not particularly appreciate the shot, Pavin's partner, Ryder Cup rookie Jim Gallagher Jr., did.

"It's just one hole, Pavin told him, "an exciting hole, but we have to keep applying the pressure."

They did. Pavin put his drive on the next hole far into the right rough, then hit a four-iron to within a foot of the pin. When they won that hole, the Americans were up by four after six holes against Rocca and Mark James and went on to win, 5 and 4.

Pavin has been the United States' most valuable golfer, winning in three of his four matches. "I just tend to get a match-play attitude, which, basically, is a go-kill-'em attitude," Pavin said.

The only player having a better weekend is Europe's Ian Woosnam, who is undefeated in four matches. Nevertheless, Faldo has emerged as his side's leader, and his partnership with Montgomerie has become Europe's flagship, replacing Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. They won Saturday morning to improve their record together since 1987 to 11-2-2, but Olazabal went on with another partner, Haeggman, in the afternoon because Ballesteros needed a rest.

So probably did Faldo, whose day began not long after dawn because he had to finish the last hole of a match that was interrupted Friday because of darkness. It was an excellent start to the morning for the Europeans because Faldo sank an uphill 10-foot putt to save par and ensure a draw with Azinger and Fred Couples.

Faldo and Montgomerie then beat Wadkins and Pavin, 3 and 2, in the regularly scheduled alternate-shot matches, of which the Europeans won three of four.

The mood in the Americans' team room was as gloomy as England's morning fog. They were trailing by three points entering the afternoon best-ball matches, and Faldo and Montgomerie were leading off for Europe against the untested Cook and Beck.

They had not been used, Watson told them, because their results of late have not been reflective of their capabilities. They both said they understood, but they were eager to prove him wrong.

"We were two hungry lions out there, ready to go," Beck said.

They were trailing by one after Faldo's third birdie at No. 6, but tied the match on the next hole with Cook's third birdie and had the lead after eight.

"They knew then they had a match on their hands," Beck said.

It was tight from that point on. But when Faldo had his only birdie of the back nine at No. 15, so did Beck. And when Faldo stuck his approach shot at No. 18 to within 12 feet of the pin, so did Cook. Faldo missed his birdie putt, then conceded Cook's to end the match.

Meantime, the United States also won three of the other four matches in the afternoon. But Watson said Saturday that if his team returns home with the Ryder Cup, he will remember the victory by Cook and Beck as the most crucial.

They are not likely to let him forget. As they left the 18th green, Beck caught Watson's eye and said, "We pulled through this afternoon, didn't we?"

Indeed, they did.

Ryder Cup

TODAY'S SINGLES MATCHES

U.S. Europe Fred Couples Ian Woosnam Chip Beck Barry Lane Lee Janzen Colin Montgomerie Corey Pavin Peter Baker John Cook Joakim Haeggman Jim Gallagher Sam Torrance Payne Stewart Mark James Davis Love Costantino Rocca Lanny Wadkins Seve Ballesteros Raymond Floyd Jose Maria Olazabal Tom Kite Bernhard Langer Paul Azinger Nick Faldo

SATURDAY'S RESULTS

Foursomes

* Faldo-Montgomerie (E) def. Wadkins-Pavin, 3 and 2.

* Floyd-Stewart (U.S.) def. Baker-Lane, 3 and 2.

* Langer-Woosnam (E) def. Couples-Azinger, 2 and 1.

* Ballesteros-Olazabal (E) def. Kite-Davis Love III, 2 and 1.

Four Ball

* Pavin-Gallagher (U.S.) def. James-Rocca, 5 and 4

* Baker-Woosnam (E) def. Couples-Azinger, 6 and 5

* Cook-Beck (U.S) def. Faldo-Montgomerie, 2 up

* Floyd-Stewart (U.S.) def. Haeggman-Olazabal, 2 and 1.

STANDINGS

* Europe 8 1/2, U.S. 7 1/2

The U.S. retains the Ryder Cup with a tie or victory. Europe must win to gain the Cup.

TELEVISION

* Channel 4, 8 a.m. (delayed)

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