First tee: 2012 Ryder Cup begins
With the sublime atmosphere that The Ryder Cup has become known and revered for, play got underway in the 39th edition of the biennial clash at precisely 0720 on Friday morning.
In the early light of dawn and under a pale vanilla sky, a canvas painted with patches of pastel blue and sun-backed cream clouds, the Northern Irish pair of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy strode across the bridge from the clubhouse onto the first tee, an amphitheatre lined on two sides by packed and towering grandstands.
Outnumbered but defiant, European fans made their presence felt with flashes of blue and gold, with chants of “Ollie” echoing amongst the 4,200 trees that line Medinah Country Club’s sprawling property interspersed unsurprisingly with an almost constant stream of “U-S-A” from the hordes of American fans that had come out in force on Friday morning with their Star Spangled Banners in tow.
“This is Match Number One,” proclaimed the announcer as against prediction it was the older of the two Northern Irishmen in McDowell that stepped forward to launch the first blow of the 2012 encounter.
Playing in the opening tie against Jim Furyk and rookie Brandt Snedeker, McDowell’s opening strike was a nervy one as he pulled his driver left off the par four first, with America’s Furyk following suit shortly after.
Both teams got out of trouble, however, with a half in four at the 433-yard opener, before the second match progressed onto the tee with more resonant cheers bolstering the already vibrant atmosphere.
For Keegan Bradley, making his debut in the contest, what a time to play your first competitive game of foursomes, as the very popular American pair completed by Phil Mickelson got going against Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia who will be looking to continue their formidable record having both never been defeated in this particular format.
Donald found the right hand side of the fairway before Bradley cannoned a monster of an opening drive down the left side.
Next up it was Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari versus Zach Johnson and Francesco Molinari.
Last up Molinari had his older brother for company but the chants this time were “There’s only one Molinari” with the occasional “Bravo Francesco” emerging from the grandstand.
As the sun emerged over the masonic clubhouse and above the treeline, with the temperatures beginning to warm, it was the Englishman who teed his ball first, smashing a fine drive down the right side before Dufner found the left hand fairway bunker.
Last but not least, it was time for Mr Ryder Cup, as Ian Poulter, who has become known for his passion for the event, marched defiantly onto the first tee, bumping a fist against his chest as he acknowledged the European support.
A thrilling tie was in the offing too, as the English pair completed by Justin Rose set off in a clash of gladiatorial proportions against Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods.
The wind picking up a tad, Poulter stroked a delightful fade into the centre of the first fairway before Woods drive left his partner in trouble down the left.
It seemed fitting that it was Poulter in the anchor match, a bold strut off the first tee and the morning had begun.