Golf: Europe's rookies learn harsh realities of life at the front

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The Independent Online
THE BENCH Brothers, as they have been nicknamed, finally began their Ryder Cup careers yesterday. Jarmo Sandelin first, followed by Jean Van de Velde and Andrew Coltart, the forgotten trio who had already written their peculiar footnote in Ryder Cup history by standing around in matching sweaters and slacks.

Never before have three players in the same team had to wait until the third day to hit a golf ball in anger. The previous evening, in the interview room, a voice with a distinct French accent had asked Mark James about his countryman. The captain of Europe shaded his eyes and searched the footlights for the questioner. "You sound just like Jean," he said. "I thought it was you wanting to know why you hadn't played for two days."

Laughter all round, but the James' laconic wit masked a nagging doubt not just about the wisdom of pitching his three rookies into a match so late but of flogging his reliable pairings so hard over the first two days.

"Jarmo, Jean and Andrew have been tremendously supportive," he said. "It's a great shame they have been left out. It's difficult, very difficult, but I think it helped that they knew my way of thinking every step of the way."

James' confidence in the toughness of his newcomers - one of them, Coltart, a controversial personal selection over the vastly more experienced Bernhard Langer - did not stretch as far as putting them into the critical positions in his singles order. Though his team required just four points from the 12 final day singles matches to retain the Cup, a point out of any of them was going to be a bonus; Ben Crenshaw had no option but to put his big guns at the top of his list. Perhaps that was the source of Crenshaw's "good feeling" about the day.

By early afternoon, as the scoreboards round the course turned ominously red, the paper mismatches had turned into an uncomfortable reality for the large contingent of European supporters scattered round the Brookline Country Club course. Van de Velde was five down by the 12th, Sandelin trailed Mickelson by three and Coltart, after holding Woods for six holes, lost the next three.

Van de Velde began his Ryder Cup roughly where his Open had ended, except that his drive off the tee found sand, not water. We expected nothing less.

His second nestled in the rough short and left of the green, his pitch came up short and the amiable Frenchman, his wife and daughter watching from the side, was a hole down to a regulation par four by Davis Love. At least no one mentioned The Open. Not for a hole anyway. But Van de Velde must have been expecting the cry when it came, on the second tee: "Watch the creek."

Van de Velde had heard it all before, turned and smiled before following Love's immaculate iron to the par-three hole with a nerveless shot of his own, acknowledging a shout of "Allez Jean" as he strode off to his fate, a six and five defeat, the first of many during a long afternoon.

Sandelin should have calmed his nerves on the same green, but followed up an iron to three feet by missing the putt for a birdie and an early lead. A hole later he was one down and three lost holes just after the turn effectively sealed his four and three defeat.

Of the three, Coltart played the most composed golf. At the third, the Scotsman's pitch from just off the green left him with a nasty five-footer for a half, which he holed with aplomb. But once ahead, Woods began to find the inspiration which had been lacking for so much of the week, chipping in from the fringe of the green at the eighth and profiting from Coltart's wayward drive on the following hole.