Golf: Ryder Cup - Montgomerie and Langer face the Woods factor

The Ryder Cup, which provides three days of unparalleled drama, will finally start today, after a build-up lasting 728 days. The 32nd playing of the biennial match is the first to be held outside Britain or America and, as Andy Farrell reports from Valder
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The Independent Online
The cabaret at the Gala Dinner was provided by Los Del Rio, rather than Chris de Burgh, while at the opening ceremony, there were Spanish dancing horses instead of the Noel Hunt trick-shot routine. King Juan Carlos declared the Ryder Cup match open, but the biggest cheer was for Seve Ballesteros, the European captain.

When the applause eventually died down, Ballesteros said: "It's the team, not me. They are the important ones." The second biggest cheer was reserved for Jose Maria Olazabal, who is happily returned to the match after withdrawing two years ago when Europe regained the Cup at Oak Hill.

Ballesteros and Olazabal are part of Europe's golden era of success in the event - when it has become a closely fought, nail-biting contest following years as a yawnathon - and this time it will be no different. Only Ollie will be on the course, but it is Seve who decides when he and his colleagues play.

Olazabal occupies a familiar position at the top of the order for this morning's opening fourballs with Costantino Rocca as a partner. They play Phil Mickelson and Davis Love, but the game of the session is the bottom match.

Colin Montgomerie is on record as wanting to take on Tiger Woods on a course that suits his game as much as Augusta suited the Masters champion. They met in the third round last April and the Scot was nine strokes worse than Woods' 65. The Scot is helped out by Bernhard Langer, while Woods is partnered by Mark O'Meara. They are good friends and lobbied American captain, Tom Kite, for the combination.

"This is a very strong pairing," said Kite, stating the obvious, but he hinted there could be changes for the afternoon's foursomes and for tomorrow. Langer is a sympathetic partner, but takes getting used to. He was paired with Monty in '91 and bemused the Scot when he wanted clarification on a yardage. "Is that from the front of the sprinkler head, or the back?" Langer asked.

But while Montgomerie speeds round a course on skates, Langer makes more glacial progress. "I thought that if we put Langer in the first match, we would all probably miss lunch," Seve said. Monty has faced the same problem with Nick Faldo and it was beneficial for both; Faldo did not get so bogged down, Monty avoided his tendency to rush.

"You could see it coming," the Scot said of his match. "We thought they would be last. It will be some game. It would be nice to start with a bang." Ballesteros has paired Faldo with Lee Westwood, who play Fred Couples and Brad Faxon. The two Swedes, Jesper Parnevik and Per-Ulrik Johansson, are paired against Tom Lehman and Jim Furyk.

Ian Woosnam, who was prevented from continuing his practice yesterday afternoon when the driving range was closed for preparations for the flagraising, and the Open champion, Justin Leonard, are the two surprises left on the sidelines.

Both captains described how difficult it was to drop four men from their twelves. Ballesteros said he had not told his omitted players before making the announcement. Quite why Darren Clarke was looking so down in the dumps after Seve put his arm round him on the 14th tee is therefore a mystery.

The opening session is traditionally reserved for experience, which was Ballesteros' guiding principle, although it was only one factor Kite took into account. Woods, Furyk, Parnevik and Westwood - how proud can the 24-year-old have been to be introduced by any young European tour player's hero - are the only rookies on show. Ballesteros' decision, not properly explained, to switch the foursomes and fourballs may backfire.

Europe won the first series of fourballs from 1981 to 1993, and have not won the first foursomes since 1973. It is a form of the game that requires experience and as most of Ballesteros' rookies are more suited to fourballs, it is hard to see Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and possibly even Ignacio Garrido playing before tomorrow.

"I am happy how it worked out," Ballesteros said of the draw. "It would be nice to be 3-1 in front after the fourballs but golf is unpredictable. It's not mathematics out there."

Kite has not put a word wrong. "We are here to play with heart, pride and determination, but at the same time with respect, integrity and honour," he said. While the last two days had only confirmed Kite's pairings, Ballesteros phoned his assistant, Miguel Angel Jimenez at 5.15am to work on his.

"It was a good time because in the morning I am more sharp," he explained. Afterwards, Jimenez went back to bed, Seve read the newspapers. Will he want to read them on Monday? Who knows. Europe's course knowledge may overcome America's putting talent, but not before the odd twist and turn. These will come round every, oh, 10 minutes.

Whatever the cost of tickets, air flights, accommodation or satellite subscriptions, it will be value for money compared to the pounds 150 for the Gala Dinner. Los Del Rio saved their big number for after the teams had left, so the sight of Montgomerie doing the Macarena was tragically missed. By Sunday, one team will be involved in extravagant gyrations.

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