Can Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson recapture their mojo on Saturday? It remains to be seen. (Getty Images)
Momentum easy to lose, difficult to find on a Friday filled with fits and starts
The problem with a day as disjointed as Friday is that any pairing can build up some steam, then have it blown away by rain or darkness. And how warm or cold any duo will be on Saturday is anyone's guess.
By Steve Eubanks, Special to RYDERCUP.com
NEWPORT, Wales -- Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim started slow in the first Friday match of the 2008 Ryder Cup. They were 2 down at the turn and looking to go 3 down late after Kim airmailed the green at the par-3 14th at Valhalla. That’s when Captain Paul Azinger approached Kim and he said, “Relax Cap’n. They’re not gonna beat us.” Mickelson then hit a spectacular flop shot to save par. Momentum swung the Americans’ way, and the first American pairing did, indeed, claw out a halve.
This year Mickelson and Dustin Johnson went 3 down after six holes of the opening session on Friday, and also clawed their way back to 1 down with three consecutive birdies. Then everything stopped. Darkness fell. All the momentum Mickelson and Johnson carried into the back nine by birdieing four out of five holes between the seventh and 12th came to a screeching halt when play was called for the day.
The same was true with Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar. They went into the rain delay 1 down, but Cink went on a five-birdie tear when play resumed. The Americans were 2 up and walking with confidence when they had to call it a day. How they will play the final seven holes on Saturday is anybody’s guess.
That’s the problem with a day that goes through as many fits and starts as Friday: One side can build momentum, and then have it snatched away by rain or a lack of daylight.
The U.S. retreated into the clubhouse during the morning deluge down in three matches and up in one. When the sun came out and the wind died down, they came roaring back. At sunset, the U.S. led in two matches, trailed 1 down in one, and they were all square in the fourth.
“Yes, we had a good first sort of hour of play or something, and then that two hours of play there was obviously in the Americans' favor,” European Captain Colin Montgomerie said. “But at the same time, there's no match that is more than 2 up or 2 down, so everyone is still in the game. There's a very important session tomorrow morning to gain that momentum back again and to take a lead into the six foursomes matches that are due to start mid-morning tomorrow.”
Even though the first session, normally over by lunchtime on Friday, will stretch into Saturday morning, its importance cannot be understated. The winner of the first session has gone on to win the cup in all but two of the last 17 contests.
“This will ebb and flow for the next two days, and you'll see 20 minutes of good from Europe and 20 minutes of good from the USA,” Montgomerie said. “I always said this was going to be close, and I don't think anything less right now. I think it's going to be a very close contest, and it's proving that.”
Saturday will be a long and confusing day, one that led U.S. Captain Corey Pavin to say, “I'm going to hopefully devise a plan for all day tomorrow, but I'm going to put a suggestion box right over here, so you can put some notes in there for me to look at.”
No matter how complicated it gets, each team would like for Saturday to be a complete day. Momentum requires motion. The Europeans and the Americans would love nothing more than to keep moving toward their goals for the next two days.