Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer got early blue on the board. (Getty Images)
Westwood rains on American parade
Despite torrential rain which eventually forced play to be suspended, England’s Lee Westwood, so often Europe’s talisman in recent Ryder Cups, was again at his brilliant best in the Friday morning fourballs.
By Paul Symes, europeantour.com
The fit-again Westwood, whose plea to play in the opening group had been granted by Europe’s Captain Colin Montgomerie, promised to puff out his chest and lead from the front. And he certainly delivered on his promise.
After big-hitting American Ryder Cup rookie Dustin Johnson had leaked his opening tee shot right, Westwood – who along with Germany’s Martin Kaymer received a rapturous reception from the boisterous galleries who had braved the elements – followed Johnson’s partner Phil Mickelson in splitting the fairway.
The 2010 Ryder Cup was underway.
After the opening hole had been halved with a par – Westwood and Johnson, who played a miraculous recovery shot from the thick rough, both missed birdie putts – the Englishman stamped his authority on proceedings at the par five second.
With his compatriot and 2008 Ryder Cup team-mate Oliver Wilson watching from the sidelines in his role as on-course analyst for BBC Radio Five Live, The World Number Three hit another textbook drive to make light of the increasingly heavy rain.
Electing to use a fairway wood for his second shot, Westwood piled the pressure on his American opponents with a perfect approach, before turning the screw still further with a pitch to four feet.
To his credit Johnson, arguably outplaying World Number Two Mickelson, also set up a birdie chance. But when he missed, Westwood, almost with an air of inevitability, found the middle of the cup. Advantage Europe.
And so to the short third, where Westwood’s flawless start continued with a rock solid four iron to 15 feet. Kaymer, of whom so much had been expected, continued to struggle with the occasion as his ball met a watery grave.
In fairness, the lake – home to a solitary swan, who must have wandered what all the fuss was about – seemed to have swelled to twice its original size, with so much rain having fallen.
A consoling arm round Kaymer’s shoulders was Westwood’s way of lifting the German’s spirits.
Mickelson also found the green, and after the overworked greenkeeping staff had spent a good five minutes clearing the standing water which had collected on the greens, he and Westwood were both left with makeable birdie putts.
Westwood went close, Mickelson even closer...but both slid past the hole, leaving Europe still one up.
The Europeans promptly doubled their advantage on the par four fourth, a demanding enough hole without having to contend with the gusting winds and driving wind, which by now had rendered the already saturated course almost unplayable.
Westwood, clad in a rather fetching fisherman’s hat and seemingly without a care in the world, made his first minor mistake of the day when he found trouble off the tee, before compounding the error with an approach into the sand, which by now was resembling more of a pond than a bunker.
But just as the Americans were beginning to believe that their own waywardness might go unpunished, Westwood – after a lengthy consultation with the Tour’s chief referee Andy McFee – took relief from the casual water and produced a truly magical shot from the sand, his ball coming to rest two feet from the pin.
Knowing that only a par would now be good enough to prevent them from slipping further behind, Johnson and Mickelson both rushed their putts past.
Despite having missed seven weeks of competitive golf with a calf injury, and in spite of treacherous playing conditions, Westwood – Europe’s leading points scorer with 16½ – was playing supremely well.
Both pairings halved the fifth hole with a par four before play was suspended at 9.45am. The elements were the only thing Westwood, a golfing force of nature, hadn’t controlled all morning. He’ll be back.