Saturday, 20 September 2008

Ryder Cup Fourballs Day One - Team America show the morning was no fluke

It was a bad day for the Europeans, the fact that it could easily have been much worse is a telling one. But for Lee Westwood and his partners stubbornly clinging on until his opponents capitulated on the final hole in both his matches, there could have been a five point gap between the sides. As it was, the Americans played in a fashion we haven't seen them produce on an opening day since 1991. Dogged, determined, they never gave in despite often finding the Europeans taking an early advantage. It was as though they found inspiration as they turned onto the back nine, overturning three shot defecits to snatch points from bewildered Europeans. The points stand USA 5.5 Europe 2.5, a three point lead which I would not have beleived possible this morning. I'm glad I didn't put any bets on now.

The first match was a replay of the mornings first, with Graeme McDowell drafted in for Robert Karlsson, who struggled on the way home in the foursomes. It turned into another titanic match, with the two Irishmen striding into a three hole lead after only four played. They were slowlyedged back however and with some majestic golf being played by either side, Anthony Kim showed his worth at several points to get the tie back to evens. Then after struggling with his drive on 17, Phil Mickelson pulled off one of the putts of the day, a snaking 25 footer to snatch a one hole lead up the last. Graeme McDowell found the fairway but not the green and his best efforts were matched by Mickelson to seal a win for the Americans. Harsh on Harrington who holed out brilliantly today. His position as the man to lead out the Europeans in the matches in recent Ryder Cups is leaving his Ryder Cup record somewhat dented, Facing Woods last time and a rejuvenated Mickelson this. I wonder if he'd be better used down the order for a change tomorrow.

A lot of the main focus in the fourballs was placed upon the slight shoulders of Mr Ian Poulter. Having lost in the foursomes this morning after losing a three shot lead, it was a bone of contention that he had been sent out again with Justin Rose - sheer stubbornness from Foolhardy Captain Nick Faldo. It's ironic that he was the one player to really stand up for the Europeans, playing some excellent golf to win the only full point that Europe claimed all day. His playing partner Justin Rose was quite often relying on Poulter to see them through on occasions where he was out of the hole and the flamboyant one duly obliged with some great iron play and strong putting which won them their tie against Stricker and Curtis by the 16th hole. I still think Clarke should have been there ahead of him but I will give him his dues; under more pressure than anyone, he really performed this afternoon and hopefully he can build on that tomorrow. Will the focus remain on his morning collapse, of course it will, but there are plenty of other players to point fingers at on the European side now...

Sergio Garcia has yet to arrive at the Ryder Cup this year. The excitable energiser bunny we know and love of years previous was nowhere to be seen in his match against Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard. The all Spanish pairing of Garcia and Jimenez simply didn't get going enough to deal with the American duo, the unexpected star performers of Azinger's team. Putts didn't fall when they needed to and Mahan and Leonard just wouldn't give them a sniff. Leonard had a fantastic round and Europe will have to pray he gets a poor night's sleep tonight if they are to make inroads on that lead tomorrow.

Lee Westwood extended his unbeaten run in Ryder Cup matches to 12 in a row this afternoon, by the skin of his teeth once more. How lucky can you be that your opponent finds water on the last to hand you the hole you need to draw in the Foursomes? How about both your opponent in the Fourballs finding water off the tee handing you the hole you need to draw. It's not the way Westwood would have liked today to have gone, halves are not what he came here for, but he's done a job to keep Europe in touch today and he will be key to giving Europe a chance come Sunday.

So you have to hold your hands up and say "Crikey, well done yanks", they did very well indeed today and look good to back it up on Saturday. The minimum Europe can cope with is honours even tomorrow, if it's more than three points going into Sunday, with a home crowd cheering them on, it's hard to see this group of Americans losing the singles that badly. Faldo better have a few words of wisdom up his sleeve or the cries that he is the worst captain Europes ever had will start to ring true...

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