Golf: Ryder Cup - Westwood has chance to put Europe ahead at dawn

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The Independent Online
Darkness brings first-day drama at the Ryder Cup to a premature close after a thunderstorm delayed the start in Valderrama. Europe are poised to take a crucial advantage when play resumes this morning, as

Andy Farrell reports.

One dramatic twilight denouement on the opening day of the 32nd Ryder Cup will be followed by two more at dawn today. Yesterday's early morning thunderstorm, which put the match 100 minutes behind schedule, has only served to heighten the tension of the occasion.

With the overall match tied at 3-3, Lee Westwood, after a rollercoaster first day in the competition, will have a six-foot putt on the 16th green after Jeff Maggert has taken his from 20 feet. Two up on Maggert and Justin Leonard, Westwood and Nick Faldo, who was involved in a similar early morning drama four years ago, were on the verge of a win following their earlier defeat in the fourballs.

The four players had agreed on the fairway to finish the hole, but by the time they reached the green, it was just too dark to continue and Maggert decided to end the match amid booing from the crowd. The Europeans would clearly have liked to have had an opportunity to end the match there and then.

"My pair agreed to continue until it became too dark to play," the American captain, Tom Kite, said. "It is a crucial putt for us and I would not have wanted to them to second guess any reads on the green."

Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman wanted to continue against Jesper Parnevik and Ignacio Garrido for another couple of holes, but, having won the 12th to go back to all square, the Europeans called a halt, leaving a possible six holes for nine o'clock this morning.

The thriller that did finish was Jose Maria Olazabal and Costantino Rocca's second 18th hole drama of the day. But where they had shone with the sun in the afternoon in beating Davis Love and Phil Mickelson, in rapidly fading light they lost to Scott Hoch and Lee Janzen.

In the fourballs, the Spanish-Italian liaison had recovered from two down with six to play, partly thanks to Olazabal holing a wedge shot from 133 yards at the 14th. Love and Mickelson both had putts for the match at the last but missed. Later, the Europeans were similarly disadvantaged with five to play, but won both the 16th and 17th. From the rough on the left of the last, Rocca hit a brilliant recovery which narrowly missed the hole. The quality of Janzen's approach was equally high, however, and finished inside. After Olazabal had missed his putt, Hoch holed from three feet for the match.

Colin Montgomerie was granted his wish of playing Tiger Woods not once, but twice. The second time was much the more pleasant experience as the Scot and Bernhard Langer avenged their earlier defeat to beat Woods and Mark O'Meara 5 and 3.

The first encounter hardly lived up to its billing as the match of the day. Woods was not at his best, but with O'Meara as a partner, he did not need to be. Montgomerie and Langer, who lost 3 and 2, could not make a birdie between them.

Montgomerie went straight from the 16th green to the practice range, where his wife Eimear brought him some lunch. It did the trick for the Scot's radar off the tee was back in working order after the half-hour session. They 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.

Woods first missed the green at the 14th, and then from three feet and with Langer hitting his tee shot to the same distance at the next, with Monty holing, the game was suddenly over. "Tiger struggled and was not as sharp as he would want," Kite said, "but Mark was flawless this morning. They both missed a few shots and a few putts in afternoon and you can't do that against Bernhard and Colin.

"I was asked why I put Colin and Bernhard out again and it was a risk, but I was lucky," Ballesteros said. "It was a long, hard day for both teams. I must congratulate my team, they have done a good job."

It was tea-time by the time the morning fourballs had finished in a 2- 2 tie, which had already shown why the Ryder Cup is so anticipated. "It was close, I knew it would be," Kite said. "I'm having a ball. This is so much fun, really exciting stuff."

Anyone doubting 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 after he bravely holed two crucial putts to win the last two holes of his match with countryman Per-Ulrik Johansson against Lehman and Jim Furyk.

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 American's 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. "They were vital and it was nice for him to show he can make those sort of putts."

Johansson was hardly a bystander in proceedings and it was a surprise to both when Ballesteros dropped him for Garrido, the only change in his afternoon line-up. "It's a whole team thing," Johansson said, "Seve is a very emotional and inspirational captain, and he seems to know his tactics. I am very proud to play for him."

Ballesteros will Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Ian Woosnam, who have yet to enter the match, in this morning's fourballs. While Kite has the advantage of already playing all 12 of his men, should he want to play Mickelson and Lehman, either together again or with other partners, they will have no more than 15 minutes between completing their match and going out again.

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