Europe Extend Dominance Of Opening Session
Steven Franklin, Press Officer
22 September 2006
Europe extended their winning run in the opening session of The Ryder Cup to seven years when the experienced combination of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood closed out a one hole victory over World Number Two Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco in the anchor match.
The closely-fought tussle was ultimately decided on the par five 16th where Clarke’s birdie gave the pair a slender lead they would not relinquish, meaning Europe finished the quartet of fourball matches leading by 2½ points to 1½.
It also meant that Europe have now triumphed on the opening morning of the previous four Ryder Cups, and remain unbeaten since 1993.
For a while it looked as though the margin of victory might be bigger, as Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson reached the turn three-up only to halve their match with Stewart Cink and JJ Henry, the latter producing a hugely composed performance that belied his standing as a rookie.
The American pair birdied six holes on the back nine to reel in their opponents and, appropriately for a match that displayed such high standards, the point was halved with a brace of birdies at the last.
Also in superb form was Sergio Garcia, who invoked parallels with the swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros/José Maria Olazábal partnership when he and Olazábal registered an emphatic 3 & 2 win over David Toms and Brett Wetterich.
Garcia, at his pumped-up best in front of the passionate galleries that lined every fairway of the Palmer Course, recorded six birdies of his own to ensure his new all-Spanish partnership with Olazábal got off to the best of starts.
“Our secret today was Sergio,” said Olazábal, who alongside Ballesteros formed the most successful pairing in Ryder Cup history.
Meanwhile, Garcia was blown away by the atmosphere. “It was unbelievable. The cheer we got coming to 16 gave me goosebumps, I hit the green with a three iron and you should have heard the noise,” he said.
"Of course it helped to play with someone of José Maria's Ryder Cup experience. We gelled beautifully as a team. He played nicely and came into his own at the holes where I struggled a little bit and I was able to help him out at other times."
Moments earlier, the United States had drawn first blood in the heavyweight clash of the opening morning fourballs, with Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk edging past Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington by a hole.
At this stage two years ago, Montgomerie and Harrington were celebrating a magnificent 2 & 1 victory over Phil Mickelson and Woods that set the tone for Europe’s landslide win at Oakland Hills.
A repeat proved beyond them at The K Club as too many times their fine approach play was let down by their putting.
“Eight through 13 killed us,” admitted Harrington. “We had so many chances that we didn’t take, while they took some. We came out of that stretch three down when we could have been two up.”
Montgomerie added: “We have this golden rule between us that we keep the balls in play and have two birdie putts on each green. We did that but did not take any of them.”
Still, the anchor match of Clarke and Westwood, with their fifth victory in seven Ryder Cup matches together, ensured Europe took a lead into the afternoon foursomes and provided a fitting conclusion to an emotionally-charged occasion for Clarke in front of his home public.
The Ulsterman, who lost his wife Heather to cancer last month, was given a rapturous welcome on the first tee that brought a tear to many an eye - not least his playing partner's.
"I was nearly crying and I looked at Billy, Darren's caddie, and he was nearly crying. That made me worse," said Westwood.
For Clarke it was a moment he will never forget.
Sunday Video Recap
Check out all the great highlights from Sunday's European victory. Watch
- 1969: Tony Jacklin and Jack Nicklaus on the final hole of the final day.