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U.S. has lost home-course advantage in Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. — Jose Maria Olazabal stepped off the plane carrying the Ryder Cup, a familiar sight considering that Europe has won six of the past eight times.

It was who followed the captain off the plane that showed how much the dynamics of this event have changed over the years.

Olazabal flew over from London with only three of his 12 players — Paul Lawrie, Francesco Molinari and Ryder Cup rookie Nicolas Colsaerts.

Everyone else was already here.

Five of the Europeans — Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Peter Hanson, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia — have homes at Lake Nona in Orlando, Fla.

Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, among four players who were in Atlanta on Sunday for the Tour Championship, are moving to south Florida. Luke Donald lives about 45 minutes away on the north side of Chicago.

It wasn't that long ago that Team Europe came over together because that's where so many lived and played — Howard Clark and David Gilford, Sam Torrance and Mark James, Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie.

Olazabal didn't see that as a problem.

"Obviously, when you look at some of the European players, they have their home base here," he said. "They play the tour over here. They are very familiar with the golf courses around here, with their opponents, and in that regard, I think they feel really more comfortable with the whole situation of coming here to the States to play The Ryder Cup. It has changed in that respect, and also that they have realized through the years that they have been able to compete against the players here.

"And that somehow boosts your confidence, and that is a very important part when you are playing match play."

Still, there was a certain charm about having the team arrive as one.

U.S. captain Davis Love III remembers his first Ryder Cup in 1993 at The Belfry, when Tom Watson assembled his group in New York and spoke of a grand adventure to Europe with the sole purpose of bringing back the cup.

Golf is different now.

"I miss that a little bit," Love said. "We all gather and fly over. They fly over here. That was a really cool thing. But I think what we have got now is a much bigger event.

"... The camaraderie between the two teams is just incredible, and it's amazing how much it's changed over the years. And we're playing against our friends, but it's still as intense — maybe even more — because we are more familiar with them."

One thing hasn't changed — both teams desperately want that 17-inch gold trophy.

Europe is coming off a 141/2-131/2 win two years ago in Wales, where it came down to the final climactic match.