Not even in all his prayers and dreams could Bernhard Langer imagine his European team producing a record lead on the first day of the 35th Ryder Cup. With the gallery at Oakland Hills stunned into silence, Europe led 6 1/2 - 1 1/2.
Langer's heroes included Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, who won twice, and Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, who inflicted a second defeat of the day on Hal Sutton's megastar pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Twice Europe had gained a four-point advantage on day one, in 1987 and 1999. But here they went one better when, after only dropping half a point in the morning fourballs, Langer's team added a 3-1 victory in the foursomes.
Only once in the history of the competition has America gone five points ahead but the problem for Sutton was that his team again failed to win the opening series for the sixth match in a row.
Inevitably, it was Montgomerie who set the tone of the day with a birdie on the first hole in the morning as the Scot and Harrington defeated Woods and Mickelson 2 & 1. It had been Sutton's long-time plan to put his leading two players out in the first match and even after the defeat they went out again in the foursomes, only to be beaten at the 18th by Clarke and Westwood.
Woods and Mickelson had gone three-up after four, but Clarke and Westwood fought back magnificently, going ahead at the 11th. Their lead might have been increased but the Americans levelled at the 17th only for Mickelson, whose driving was unacceptably poor following his change of equipment only a fortnight ago, almost to drive out of bounds at the last.
With the ball against a boundary fence and the right-handed Woods due to play, the Americans had to take a penalty drop and could do no better than a six. Clarke missed the green but, having two putts for the win, lagged up stone dead.
It was the pivotal match of the afternoon session, which had opened with America gaining their first point through Chris DiMarco and the 50-year-old Jay Haas, who beat Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet 3 & 2.
But the new pairing of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, the rookie who was unbeaten on the day, defeated Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink 2 & 1, while earlier Monty and Harrington took care of Davis Love and Fred Funk 4 & 2.
"We've had a very, very good day," Montgomerie said. The Scot extended his unbeaten run in Ryder Cup play to nine matches. By contrast, taking into account last year's Presidents Cup, Mickelson has lost nine games in a row, while Woods has only even won once on the opening day of his four Ryder Cups.
"There are very few days in Ryder Cup play that I have enjoyed more," added Monty. "I seem to choose my partners well. And I enjoy the team format, possibly more than playing on my own.
"This is a great start but that is all it is," he warned. "We could never have expected to be this far ahead. We have to be on our guard and keep playing as we did today."
Although subdued, the gallery did not resort to the abuse that was fired at Montgomerie at Brookline in 1999. "I had more fun today," Monty said. "The crowd were very fair. You knew who were playing at home but they cheered good golf."
Sutton's master plan was in tatters. He told his players to prepare themselves as individuals and did not employ any of his pairings in either the fourballs or foursomes during the practice rounds. He hoped his players would make birdies and make the crowd noisy, but while all the talk had been of the severity of the Oakland Hills greens and how good the Americans were at putting, it was the Europeans who were firing in the birdies.
Sutton wanted history to see Woods and Mickelson at their best. It never happened. In the opening fourball, Woods birdied three of the first four holes but was two down. Montgomerie birdied four of the first six, including a 12-footer on the first that alone justified his selection as a wild card by Langer.
"Playing America's No 1 pairing on American soil, a good start was going to be essential," the Scot said. Harrington then hit his tee shot at the short third to five feet and the Americans never had a chance to recover.
"We always felt this match was worth more than one point and I think it helped the guys behind," Montgomerie said. Clarke and Jimenez, sharing a love of cigars, wine and fast cars, cleared out Love and Chad Campbell 5 & 4, while Garcia and Westwood, who enjoyed playing together so much at The Belfry, claimed their fourth win out in five matches by defeating the strong-looking combination of David Toms and Jim Furyk 5 & 3.
Only one match went to the 18th, a nervy affair in which Donald and Paul McGinley twice went one-up on Cink and Chris Riley. But they came to the last all square and Donald hit a superb two-iron on to the green to secure a par which forced Riley to hole from six feet for the half and prevent a European clean sweep. "Hal came over to me and said, 'Thanks for not letting us get skunked'," Riley said.
At no stage did a European pairing trail in the morning and only two American pairings managed to get their noses in front in the afternoon. That it was Woods and Mickelson who were the ones who ended up losing after being ahead was another shattering blow to Sutton.
"We just didn't play well," said the American captain. "Tiger Woods didn't play his best but Phil didn't play well."
While Langer had work to do to keep his players' feet on the ground last night, he will now want to introduce the three players who did not play Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and David Howell today to avoid the fate of Mark James's team in 1999 of going into the singles with three players fresh to the action.Reuse content