U.S. in familiar position, trailing in Ryder Cup
Just when it appeared as if the Europeans were prepared to pull away yet again, the Americans at least put up a fight. But despite commendable efforts from a couple of Ryder Cup rookies, the U.S. trailed Europe 5-3 after Friday's opening matches.
John L. Byrwa, Managing Editor
September 22, 2006
At least it wasn't as bad as Oakland Hills. Still, the opening day of the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club on Friday wasn't what United States captain Tom Lehman had in mind.
Hoping to reverse a European domination that has stretched more than 20 years, the American Ryder Cup team instead watched the Europeans jump out to a 5-3 lead after the first day of these biennial slugfests.
Were it not for gutsy performances by Ryder Cup rookies Zach Johnson and J.J. Henry, it would have been much worse, if not as bad as 2004 when the Europeans stole 6 1/2 of the first 8 points in Michigan en route to a record-setting 18 1/2-9 1/2 victory.
"I think we played hard," Lehman said. "I think we played with a lot of heart. We just didn't get the putts to drop. The Europeans obviously made a lot more putts than we did.
"It was still 5-3. It's still anybody's ball game, so I don't really feel too concerned, but we are a little bit frustrated."
Lehman's counterpart, on the other hand, had to be pleased with his team's performance. Ian Woosnam said before the matches began that he would definitely play all 12 of his players on the first day, and the Welshman did exactly that. And he was rewarded nicely with a total team effort, as all 12 players posted points for the Europeans, who have now outscored the Americans 35-29 over the last 11 sessions of competition.
The leader of the pack was Spain's Sergio Garcia, who went 2-0. He paired with fellow Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal in the morning fourballs to defeat David Toms and rookie Brett Wetterich 3-and-2, then partnered with England's Luke Donald to dispatch Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk 2-up in the afternoon foursomes.
"I just love the Ryder Cup," said Garcia, who improved his career mark to an amazing 12-3-2, including a perfect 7-0-0 in foursomes. "I couldn't live without it, definitely, and it's just amazing."
Particularly concerning to the Americans has to be their first-session performances over the past 12 Ryder Cups. Since 1983, the Europeans have outscored the Americans 33 1/2-14 1/2 in Day One foursomes matches. Not surprisingly, over that same time span they hold a 10-1-1 advantage in first-day foursomes play.
In all, the Americans got a total of 1 1/2 points from their top four players, Woods, Mickelson, Furyk and DiMarco.
"Well, I'm sure they expected to more," Lehman said of his big guns. "I know they are very disappointed they didn't get more points."
Unlike many of their teammates, Johnson and Henry should sleep well Friday night. Johnson certainly earned a peaceful night because his afternoon was anything but calm.
Trailing Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley by one hole heading to the par-5 18th, Johnson coolly canned a knee-knocker of a 4-foot par putt to tie the Europeans and earn a big half-point in the afternoon foursomes matches at the K Club.
Trailing 2 1/2-1 1/2 after the morning fourball matches, the Americans could do no better in the afternoon, getting a half-point from Stewart Cink and David Toms in their match against David Howell and Henrik Stenson and another half from Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, who let Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie off the hook with a sloppy par on the par-5 18th that let the Europeans earn a half-point.
In the morning sessions, Henry and Cink rallied from 3-down to Robert Karlsson and Paul Casey, carding five birdies in six holes in the middle of their round to earn a big half-point.
Displaying none of the nerves that can cripple Ryder Cup first-timers, Henry coolly canned a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-4 second for a 1-up. But it was short lived. The Europeans quickly turned the tide when Karlsson birdied from 8 feet on the third, then Casey wowed the crowd with an eagle on the par-5 fourth after reaching the green in two and holing the 8-foot putt to put Europe 1-up.
Casey and Karlsson upped their lead on the par-4 seventh in the most unlikeliest of ways. Karlsson, the Swede, flew his approach way long over the green, his ball coming to rest on a TV tower left of the green. After a drop, he miraculously got up and down, hitting a 12-foot putt for par, while the Americans both made bogey to give the Europeans the hole and a 2-up lead. Two holes later, they went 3-up when Karlsson's approach from the left side of the fairway on the par-4 ninth came to rest 2 feet from the hole and he made the putt.
Henry, though, cut the Europeans' lead to 2-up when he hit a lovely approach to within a couple of feet for kick-in birdie at the par-4 11th, then cut the lead to 1-up with a solid 8-foot birdie putt on the par-3 12th. A Cink birdie at the par-3 14th pulled the Americans all square with loads of momentum heading to the home stretch. Then another Henry birdie -- the Americans' fifth in six holes -- gave them a 1-up lead with three to play.
Henry, though, did stumble when he missed a 6-footer for par on No. 16 that evened the match with two to play.
"Well, I couldn't really wait for today to come, to behonest with you," Henry said. "Just a great, great day again. I'm really proud of the way I played."
The European's sole win of the afternoon came from Garcia and Donald, who dispatched Woods and Furyk in what had to be considered an upset.
Johnson and Campbell, playing in only his second Ryder Cup, got off to fast start and led 1-up after Johnson's opening-hole birdie, but Harrington's 12-foot birdie on the third squared the match, while the Americans' bogey on the sixth gave the Europeans a 1-up lead. They led 2-up after Harrington's crowd-pleasing 10-foot par putt and Campbell's missed short par putt.
But the Americans would birdie the par-5 16th to climb to within one before Johnson's clutch performance on the last salvaged the half.
While Johnson's effort had to be encouraging for Lehman and the rest of his teammates, Woods' was less than what most expected. But not atypical of his Ryder Cup performance.
After he and Furyk dispatched of Harrington and Colin Montgomerie 1-up in the morning fourballs -- that after nearly blowing a 3-up lead with five to play -- Woods was nowhere near his usual stellar self, missing putts and leaving Furyk in tough spots. AS a result, the pair fell to a fresh Donald, who didn't play in the morning session, and Ryder Cup stalwart Garcia 2-up.
The win gave Garcia a 2-0 record on the first day after he and Jose Maria Olazabal whipped Toms and rookie Brett Wetterich 3-and-2 in the morning. The loss dropped Woods, the undisputed No. 1 player in the world, to 8-12-2 in five Ryder Cups.
"I did struggle in probably the first six, seven holes in the morning" said Woods, who opening tee shot of the Ryder Cup was pulled so far left it flew over the bunker and into the pond, which rarely comes into play. "But I got it turned around and hit some really good shots, and this afternoon I actually hit it pretty good."
One would think escaping the morning's fourball matches trailing by only one point, 2 1/2-1 1/2, would have served the Americans well, but the afternoon early on was far from kind to the visiting team.
At first the U.S. felt encouraged as three of the four U.S. pairings got off to fast starts, with Campbell and Johnson going 1-up after a opening birdie by Johnson, the Ryder Cup rookie, Toms and Cink winning the second hole on Toms' birdie, and Mickelson and DiMarco also winning the first on DiMarco's birdie. But all three pairings lost their respective leads within the next two holes.
But the Americans refused to fold.
Cink and Toms trailed Howell and Stenson by one through 14 but a big birdie, coupled with Howell's water ball, brought the match back to all-square before the teams matched pars coming in for a halve.
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