Golf: Ryder Cup - Parnevik's panache quickly proves his worth to Europe

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The Independent Online
Europe found a Swedish stalwart on the opening day of the Ryder Cup. Andy Farrell, in Valderrama, watches Jesper Parnevik produce the goods when he needed to.

Doubting Jesper Parnevik has almost been a national craze this summer, but no longer. Anyone querying Parnevik's inclusion in Europe's Ryder Cup team as a wild card, on the basis of a reputation as a bridesmaid from two Opens and a number of other near misses this year, can be swiftly disabused of the idea.

By bravely holing two crucial putts to win the last two holes of his match with his countryman Per-Ulrik Johansson against Tom Lehman and Jim Furyk, the Swede allowed Europe complete the opening series of fourballs level at 2-2.

After an early-morning thunderstorm put the match 100 minutes behind schedule, it was well past lunchtime when Jose Maria Olazabal and Costantino Rocca won the first point with a one-hole victory over Phil Mickelson and Davis Love. Olazabal had provided the first dramatic moment of the three days when he holed his wedge from 133 yards at the 14th.

That brought the match back to all square and the Americans went behind for the first time when Rocca birdied the 16th. Both Love and Mickelson, the latter from five feet, had the chance to half the match at the last, but neither took the opportunity.

Others, though, have been inspired. Playing the 17th all square, Parnevik hooked his tee shot into the crowd. After returning to the fairway, he hit an eight-iron to 15 feet and holed the putt, while Lehman missed from a similar distance. All four players had birdie putts at the last, but after Johansson's had swung away in front of the hole, and with both the Americans' inside him, Parnevik holed from 12 feet to ensure the one-hole win. "I'm proud of the way he holed those putts," said Johansson. "It was vital to make those putts and it was good for Europe's confidence. It was nice for him to show he can make those sort of putts. Jesper is ready to win a major."

While some of their compatriots in the gallery were adorned with Viking helmets in blue and yellow, both Johansson's girlfriend Linda and Parnevik's wife, Mia, had the Swedish flag painted on their fingernails.

The two men had proved their compatibility as a combination by withstanding Lehman's opening parry of birdies at the first and third. Last year's Open champion record five birdies in all, more than anyone else in the session, and his heroics included holing a chip-shot at the 15th.

"It was very emotional to play with Jesper," Johansson, who first met his colleague when the pair won a trip to Florida in 1984, said. "We played a real fourball. When I played badly, he stood up for me, and, when he hit a couple of bad shots, I helped him out. It was an up-and-down game and fantastic to win."

They won three holes out of four from the sixth and it took a six-foot putt from Lehman on the 10th, after Parnevik had hit his wedge dead, to prevent an extension of the sequence. Johansson was not without his contributions, having started the revival at the sixth with a 12-foot putt and hitting a nine-iron to three feet at the 14th, which put them two up.

Most spectacular was his recovery from the trees at the eighth, where he hit a nine-iron to a foot. "I only had a little gap," he said. "About the size of a round kitchen table for four people." This all made the breaking-up of the partnership a mystery, especially as the replacement of Johansson with Ignacio Garrido was the only change in the European line-up for the foursomes.

Parnevik was probably more upset by Ballesteros' decision than Johansson. "Jesper kept it in play better than I did," Johansson said. "It's a whole team thing and it will be good for Garrido to play with Jesper. Seve is a very emotional and inspirational captain, and he seems to know his tactics. I am very proud to play for him."

But there were more obvious candidates to sit out what was by now the late afternoon, Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie being chief among them. Westwood started well, bringing comparisons with Peter Baker's performance at The Belfry four years ago when he holed from 10 feet and 15 feet at the second and third. But after that any comparisons became far from flattering. Faldo was the only man on the scorecard from the seventh but, when he missed from six feet at the last, and Brad Faxon holed from just inside him, the Americans had their second point.

The first had come from the bottom match, which hardly lived up to its billing as the match of the day. Tiger Woods was not at his best but, with Mark O'Meara as a partner, he did not need to be. Colin Montgomerie and Bernhard Langer, who lost 3 and 2, could not match a birdie between them, with the Scot missing fairways regularly. "Monty didn't play his best and I never made any putts," Langer said. Montgomerie went straight from the 16th green to the practice range, where his wife, Eimear, brought him his lunch. It did the trick, for the Scot's radar was back in working order after the half-hour session.

With darkness threatening to bring the foursomes back for early-morning denouements today, a good start was essential as they faced the same opponents. Langer and Monty went two up at the third and, after dropping a hole at the next, won the eighth and ninth, where Montgomerie's approach finally brought a smile to his face, to be three up at the turn.

While Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Woosnam, who never looks as good in practice as he does under the gun, still have to enter proceedings today, the American captain, Tom Kite, put all four of his players who missed the first session out in the foursomes. Scott Hoch and Lee Janzen took advantage of Rocca and Olazabal's earlier exertions to win the first two holes and return to two up at the 11th.

Early in the other two matches, Parnevik and Garrido were one down to Lehman and Mickelson, but Westwood found some confidence when he holed a birdie putt at the eighth to put himself and Faldo one up on Justin Leonard and Jeff Maggert.

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