Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Jim Furyk was plenty pumped after he and partner Tiger Woods survived a late rally by Europe's Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. (Photo: Getty Images)

Europe grabs slim lead after morning session

They finished the hard-fought morning fourball session trailing the Europeans, but given recent history at the Ryder Cup the Americans had to be encouraged by their performance Friday at the K Club.

John L. Byrwa, Managing Editor
September 22, 2006

Since 1983, the Europeans have dominated the opening session of the Ryder Cup. That wasn't the case Friday at the K Club.

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk threw a mid-round birdie barrage at Padraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie, then held on for a nail-biting 1-up victory that secured the first point of the matches for the Americans. Minutes later, Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal capped their easy 3-and-2 win over David Toms and Ryder Cup rookie Brett Wetterich.

Later, rookie J.J. Henry and Stewart 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. Finally, Phil Meanwhile and Chris DiMarco fell to Europe's Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood during a match in which neither team held more than a one-hole lead. Westwood and Clarke defeated the Americans 1-up as Europe emerged from the morning session with a 2 1/2-1 1/2 lead.

In the afternoon foursomes, or alternate-shot format, the captains sent out:

Harrington and Paul McGinley (EUR) vs. Chad Campbell and rookie Zach Johnson (US)
David Howell and Henrik Stenson (EUR) vs. Cink and Toms (US)
Westwood and Montgomerie (EUR) vs. Mickelson and DiMarco (US)
Luke Donald and Garcia (EUR) vs. Woods and Furyk (US)

The start had to be encouraging for the Americans, who in 2004 at Oakland Hills watched the Europeans sprint out to a 3 1/2-1/2 lead after the morning fourball session en route to their record-setting win.

After a rocky start, the real Woods finally showed up at the K Club. And none too soon for an America squad that was in danger of falling into a deep hole after they trailed in three of four matches early on.

Woods, the world's No. 1 player who entered the 36th edition of these biennial matches hotter than asphalt in July, put his first shot of the day into the lake that borders the first hole at the K Club.

Paired with Furyk, Woods tried to play a fade off the first tee at the par-4 first but instead drew his ball over the bunker into the lake on the left, which rarely comes into play. After a drop, he played his approach to the right fringe, and his little chip missed to the right for an opening bogey.

Luckily for him, his partner was there to bail him out. Furyk, displaying the mettle that made him a solid partner for Woods at the 2005 Presidents Cup, responded by hitting a perfect tee shot then putting his approach to within 8 feet. He made the birdie putt to put the U.S. 1-up through the first hole.

The Europeans, backed by a loud and enthusiastic partisan crowd, missed a golden opportunity to put some early pressure on the Americans when both missed makeable birdie putts, Harrington from 12 feet and Montgomerie from 10.

Woods' troubles continued on the fifth hole when he lipped out a 4-foot par putt that gave Harrington and Montgomerie the hole and evened their match. On the seventh, Woods again lipped out a par putt, this time from about 10 feet, and Montgomerie made his short par putt to give the Europeans a 1-up lead.

But then Woods came to life and as a result also fired up Furyk. Woods first righted himself and squared the match on the par-3 eighth when he hit a magnificent punch 8-iron from 173 yards to within 4 feet and made the birdie putt.

Furyk followed with a big birdie on the par-4 ninth when he holed a superb putt from roughly 25 feet that snaked from right to left and found the middle of the cup before Harrington and Montgomerie missed their own birdie putts, putting the U.S. 1-up at the turn. Woods then got his fist-pump going on the par-4 11th when he was true with his 12-foot birdie putt that gave the Americans a 2-up lead and quieted the huge gallery following his group.

The Americans upped their lead to 3-up through 12 over a stunned European duo when Woods birdied the par-3 hole for his team's fourth birdie in five holes. However, Montgomerie kept his team in the match with a clutch birdie at the par-3 14th to cut the U.S. lead to 2-up.

Harrington kept the Europeans' hopes alive with a birdie at the par-5 16th the cut the U.S. lead to 1-up with two to play. The U.S. closed out the match when Furyk reached the par-5 18th in two, then two-putted from 35 feet for birdie.

Woods and Furyk were a terrific team for the American side at the 2005 Presidents Cup, racking up a stellar 2-0-1 record en route to the U.S. win over the Internationals.

In the second match, Cink and Henry held an early 1-up lead over Casey and Karlsson, but the Europeans rallied to take control of the match heading to the back nine. But Henry would keep his side alive with some surprisingly clutch play.

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.

The Europeans got on the board for the first time when Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal took a 1-up lead over David Toms and Cup rookie Brett Wetterich on the first hole. They increased their lead to 2-up when Olazábal produced a majestic 6-iron approach to 5 feet for a birdie. But Wetterich, who has looked somewhat nervous in his debut, put his extraordinary power on display to find the green in two on the par-5 10th and two-putt from 40 feet for birdie, reducing the Europeans' lead to 1-up.

In the day's fourth and final match, it was a dream start for Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke. Clarke, an emotional favorite of both sides after the death on August 13 of his wife, Heather, from breast cancer, smashed his opening tee shot on the first, hit his approach just over the flag to 12 feet, then made the putt amid raucous roars from the Irish fans. Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco squared the match on the par-5 fourth when Mickelson chipped to 2 feet and made the birdie putt.

After six straight halved holes, Westwood gave the Europeans a 1-up lead on the 10th thanks in part to DiMarco and Mickelson both missing easy birdie putts. DiMarco, Mickelson and Westwood all hit their respective third shots within 6 feet of the hole. DiMarco was the closest -- about 3 feet faway -- but missed. Mickelson also missed. Then Westwood, benefitting nicely from a read on the line, holed his putt to put the Europeans 1-up.

That lead lasted all of 10 minutes because DiMarco canned a 20-foot birdie putt on the 11th to square the match.

The match turned on the par-5 16th. Mickelson's second shot with a fairway wood wound up in a greenside bunker, while DiMarco's third spun off the green and into the rough. Westwood had a 40-footer for eagle and sent it 5 feet past the hole. The Europeans made birdie to win the hole and go 1-up with one two to play.

The weather was a pleasant -- and much-welcomed -- change from earlier in the week when persistent rain and at times gale-force winds disrupted practice sessions and soaked the Palmer Course. But the still-soggy conditions of the course forced officials on Friday to allow players to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

The U.S. is trying to reverse a trend that over the last 11 Cups has seen the Europeans win six times. Especially eye-popping is the American's performance -- or lack thereof -- during opening-day sessions. Since 1983, in Day One fourball matches, the Europeans have reeled off a near-perfect 9-1-1 record, accumulating a whopping 31-13 advantage in total points earned.

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