Golf: The Dream Team Ballesteros

Europe 9 United States 4: Euphoria for Europeans as captain Seve keeps making the right decisions
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The Independent Online
It Mattered little what marvels the Americans managed here yesterday. They did some fairly amazing things, like Justin Leonard and Fred Couples both holing out from the fairway, but it was not enough.

The most amazing golfer of all, Seve Ballesteros, did not hit a shot but an impassioned performance as captain of the European team inspired his charges to win the fourballs 31/2-1/2 on the way to taking a 9-4 lead in the 32nd playing of the extraordinary competition that is the Ryder Cup.

With three foursomes to be completed prior to today's 12 singles, Europe are up in one, down in one and square in the other. The Europeans know from their victory at Oak Hill two years ago that it is possible to retrieve a deficit of two points going into the singles, but no one has achieved a greater comeback. But wherever they come from, Europe need only five points to retain the Cup.

Ballesteros was everywhere, covering so much of the Valderrama terrain that he must have cloned himself at least four times. A quiet word in a caddie's ear here one minute, almost forcing a club into a player's hand the next. "Seve can be a bit intense," said Colin Montgomerie, who was talked through the 17th by his captain. "Look at the scoreboard," added Darren Clarke. "Seve's making all the right decisions."

"Seve is pretty active out there," Tom Lehman said. "He is the same as a captain as he was as a player. Seve has a personality that can be intimidating if you let it. Basically, he is running around putting out fires. If a pair get two down, he vaporises on the tee."

Chief among them was sending out the three players who had not played at all on Friday. All won their fourballs: Clarke with Montgomerie beating Fred Couples and Davis Love III after the Irishman's glorious six-iron to the last; and Ian Woosnam and Thomas Bjorn teaming up to win 2 and 1 against Leonard, the Open champion, and Brad Faxon.

"It made me more angry," said Woosnam of watching from the sidelines the previous day. "I was so keyed up when I got out there. It's like having a caged tiger, when it's let out; it comes out fierce." Which is more than can be said for Tiger Woods, who with Mark O'Meara, lost to Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood 2 and 1.

"I never expected to play five times, but I wanted to show Seve and the team that I could produce the golf needed to win the Ryder Cup," said Bjorn. "We have 12 cards who can play, not just eight, that's why we are so strong. It was a fantastic feeling to get out there. This is what you dream about and Woosnam was a great person to have there to lean on."

Leonard holed his sand- wedge third shot for an eagle at the fourth hole and followed it with four birdies in the next six. But Bjorn birdied the 11th from five feet and when Woosnam followed him from 15 feet at the 15th, they were two up. The Dane, on his debut, then reduced the 17th to a drive and a three-iron and two-putted to clinch the match.

This was not the only match in which the Americans led early on, but came away empty handed. "We are playing the last few holes better," Woosie said. "We have guys who have been in contention a lot. What it comes down to is heart and bottle."

Montgomerie holing two crucial putts from 20 feet and eight feet at 16 and 17 was the vital factor in the top match, while Faldo and Westwood just got better and better together, producing eight birdies between them to Woods' and O'Meara's six. By the time the last fourball reached its climax, Ballesteros had joined Jose Maria Olazabal and Ignacio Garrido in a triumvirate of amigos.

Together they foiled Phil Mickelson's wonderful approach to the 17th with Garrido's stunning up and down from the back bunker. When both drove into the trees at the last, it was Olazabal who somehow willed in a putt from 16 feet to match Lehman's par to leave the Americans winless for the day. "I thought we had four strong pairings and that says a lot about how the Europeans have played," Mickelson said.

The drama had not finished there. In near darkness Monty and Bernhard Langer squeezed a one-hole win out of Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk. At the Ryder Cup, it is not so much that matches expand to fill the available daylight, but that days expand to accommodate the play. Another dawn thunderstorm meant Friday's foursomes was finally completed at 12.20pm yesterday when Jesper Parnevik and Garrido halved their match with Lehman and Mickelson.

The other match that was still alive was swiftly dispatched when Leonard hit his first fine putt of the day, but left it on the right edge of the cup at the 16th hole, before Westwood confidently holed from 10 feet. A 3 and 2 win gave the youngster his first Ryder Cup point, a commodity his senior partner, Faldo, now has more of than any other player.

"That feels wonderful," Westwood said. He had attempted the putt, with its four-inch break, several times on the putting green. "To be honest, I missed more times than I holed it," he admitted. "But I had a feel for it and to see it go in was brilliant."

Lehman and Parnevik each set up a win at the 13th and 14th, but then the last four holes were halved. Lehman and Garrido both almost chipped in at the last and were close enough for the half to be conceded. "The atmosphere is something I can't explain," said Garrido.

"It could not be written, neither could it be read. You have to be here to experience it. We could play 100 holes and would not be tired. The spectators will carry us in their arms." If only the rains would stay away to ensure he and everyone else can enjoy it for another day.