Ryder Cup Logo Ryder Cup: Team USASeptember 22-24 2006, The K Club, Straffan, County Kildare, Ireland
Story Image Jim Furyk (left) and Tiger Woods scored an opening victory after a pep talk from Tom Lehman. (Photo: Getty Images)

Notebook: Woods and Clarke have very different starts

The scenes on the first tee box at the Ryder Cup Friday morning ranged from inauspicious to inspirational. Plus, officials are keeping their eyes to the ground, Tom Lehman is focusing on the big picture, and more.

September 22, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- The scenes on the first tee box at the Ryder Cup on Friday ranged from inauspicious to inspirational. First, Tiger Woods yanked his opening shot into the water. Later, Darren Clarke pumped his fist and smiled to acknowledge a heartfelt standing ovation.

Still mourning the death of his wife five weeks ago, Clarke provided the emotional high point Friday morning, hugging his opponents, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, before teeing off underneath beams of brilliant sunshine that lit up the K Club.

The Irishman knocked a perfect tee shot about 300 yards down the fairway, and his partner and good friend, Lee Westwood, simply nodded his head in appreciation.

Clarke then hit his approach to 8 feet. He drained the putt to win the first hole of the best-ball match, raising the putter and pumping his fist -- a wonderful start for the Europeans, who are trying to keep their claim on the cup they've won in four of their last five meetings with the Americans.

Clarke's start was much different than what Woods endured on No. 1 about 45 minutes earlier.

Playing it safe on the 418-yard, par 4, Woods took 3-wood on the tee box, but yanked it into a lake that is so far left that it's barely in play.

Partner Jim Furyk made birdie on that hole, however, to give the Americans a 1-up lead after one hole -- nice ham 'n egg start in the marquee match against Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.

LIFT, CLEAN AND PLACE: Tournament officials allowed for lift, clean and place rules in the morning matches -- a nod to wicked weather that buffeted the course during the practice rounds. Rain soaked the course Wednesday. And as late as Thursday night, high winds lashed the area as remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon moved across the North Atlantic.

But Friday dawned bright, brilliant and, of course, a little breezy -- a great day for golf, at least in the early going on an island known for its quickly changing weather.

"We will have four very experienced referees, led by the European Tour's John Paramor, with the four matches to take a close look at the amount of mud of the balls and the amount of disturbance to the flight of the ball," said Ryder Cup Chief Referee Andy McFee. "The decision as to whether we continue with preferred lies in the following sessions, beginning with today's afternoon foursomes, will then be based on fact rather than speculation."

HANDS OFF THE PANIC BUTTON: U.S. Captain Tom Lehman won't get distressed if the early results go against the Americans.

At Oakland Hills in 2004, Europe won the morning session with three and a half points and never looked back on their way to a record victory. But Lehman is too cool a customer to worry purely about results.

"I think how the teams do in the morning has an impact, success or not," he said. "You can be very successful and still lose the match. Scott Verplank told me at The Belfry one year he and his partner shot 5-under with six birdies and a bogey and lost to a team that made six birdies and no bogeys.

"Would you want to set them down because they didn't play well? No. They played great, they just didn't win," he explained. "So I think it is important to look and see how the guys are playing and if they are playing well and know they are playing well and have confidence sometimes it is tough to sit someone out."

After spending a long time watching his rookies on Thursday, Lehman declared himself more than satisfied with the way they are shaping up.

"Brett [Wetterich] is playing extremely well. He hits it a long way and is very strong," he said. "JJ [Henry]'s playing great, driving it really beautifully. He hits it really long and really strong. His trajectory is flat and he lives in Texas so he knows how to play in the wind. His whole game is very much suited to playing in conditions that are somewhat like this."

Copyright 2006 Associated Press and PA Sport. All rights reserved.

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