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Golf: Torrid start for Europe's big guns

LEE WESTWOOD suffered a baptism of fire here last night at the Firestone Country Club as Europe's big guns were given an early golfing lesson in the big Ryder Cup rehearsal.

As American after American turned the leaderboard red, too many of Europe's big stars were feeling blue amid the heat and humidity of the NEC Invitational World Golf Championship. And for Westwood, struggling with his game after a disappointing blow-up at the USPGA in Medinah earlier this month, it was a nightmare. He could not have got off to a worse start with a double- bogey six at the fourth and another lost shot at the par-three fifth.

When lightning stopped play, Westwood was four over par after just eight holes, propping up the field and looking anything but the inspirational force Europe are hoping for when Mark James' team arrive at Brookline in four weeks' time.

Darren Clarke, playing with South Africa's Ernie Els, fared little better, three over after eight, having bogeyed the first two holes and the long 469-yard par-four sixth. Ironically, it was left to the 19-year-old sensation Sergio Garcia to show the way and when the storm came he was the only European featured in the top dozen on one under par.

A clutch of Americans headed the leaderboard at two under, including John Huston, Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman, and they were tied with Australia's Steve Elkington and New Zealand's Greg Turner.