Is this 2004 all over again, a Detroit remix, or does this American team have soul? At 5-3 down they will have to summon the iron in it if Ian Woosnam's rampant Europeans are to be denied their third unprecedented Ryder Cup in a row here tomorrow evening.
But then, anything seems possible after a first day when the emotions fluctuated just as much as the balance did of this already remarkable game. As ever, the hero of the final hour, which began by the promise of a four-point cushion but then threatened to whittle it down to one, was one Colin Montgomerie.
The Scot's ice-cool five-footer for half a point with Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco was nerve, experience and sheer Monty combined. "How many times have we seen him do that?" said a clearly overjoyed Ian Woosnam, having watched all 12 of his players contribute at least half a point and Lehman's two crack pairings limited to one-and-a-half out of a possible five. "What a fantastic day for my team. My boys performed tremendously. "
Sergio Garcia was the pick of them, absolutely brilliant in the morning by establishing himself as the new Seve Ballesteros with Jose Maria Olazabal and absolutely impervious in the afternoon to give Woods the defeat his overall play had deserved. "Sergio just lifted his game unbelievably, which he always seems to do in the Cup," said Woosnam. "He has that Spanish spirit. He is on top form."
In contrast, it was another largely forgettable Ryder experience for Woods, despite winning a point on the opening day for the first time since 1997. In truth, he played dreadfully in beating Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington in the foursomes and not too badly in defeat in the fourballs. "I struggled in the first six or seven holes this morning but got it turned around and this afternoon I actually hit it pretty good," he said. No, the Ryder Cup does not make much sense to this increasingly baffled man.
It sure does to this 45,000-strong crowd who made this, as Montgomerie said, "the greatest opening day's atmosphere in the Cup's history". After Ireland's 79-year wait, the weather was not going to put them off whatever it did, but the sun shone and within a few shots there was so much to get excited about. First Woods duck-hooked his opening drive into the water and half an hour later Darren Clarke fought back the tears to pierce the fairway and any number of hearts. Game on, wait over.
It began with the bizarre sight of Woods hacking, but still winning. Jim Furyk picked up the might of the world's best golfer on his shoulders and carried him to victory over Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. The European duo did not go quietly, though that would have been impossible, anyway, in this cacophony and Lehman's main men only scraped through on the last after being three up with six remaining. It was to buck the trend of the day as in all seven of the eight match-ups went down the 18th, but only Woods and Furyk secured the full point. It was a similar story at Oakland Hills two years ago, so cannot be put down to luck, and America and Lehman in particular must stop bemoaning fortune if they are to prevail. Europe simply make things happen for them.
Nobody did so yesterday more courageously or more welcomely as Clarke. Six weeks ago he lost his wife, Heather, to cancer and after linking up with his great compadre, Lee Westwood, to inch a thrilling battle against Lehman's second guard in DiMarco and Mickelson, the Ulsterman stood by the clubhouse hugging anyone within arm length. Asked later what emotions he has been feeling, he said "emotions that I hope you never have to feel", his eyes still red, his mind momentarily off the competition.
But a competitor he is and out he went to support the foursomes with the tie nicely poised at 2 1/2-1 1/2 after Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson had been pegged back to a half by Stewart Cink and the impressive rookie, J J Henry, and Garcia and Olazabal had clinically dismantled David Toms and Brett Wetterich 3 and 2. Clarke would have been enthralled by what he saw.
First his two close friends, Harrington and Paul McGinley, let slip a two-hole lead with three to go to tie with Zach Johnson and Chad Campbell and then David Howell and Henrik Stenson fumbled a one-hole lead with five to go to halve with Cink and Toms. It really did feel like a whole point wasted. Until Garcia and Luke Donald did the business.
Woods had righted his waywardness somewhat but still could not live with his young nemesis's effervescence. He did do most to claw back the two-hole deficit to make it level with five remaining, but then on the 17th came the definitive moment. Garcia hit it stiff from the fairway, Woods struck to about 10 feet away and when Furyk's well of belligerence eventually ran dry as he hooked one into the water on the 18th it was over. Garcia outplayed Woods spectacularly and was the day's main star.
Montgomerie, naturally, tried his utmost to steal the spotlight when standing over that tricky left-to-right to win the hole for he and Westwood and gain the invaluable half. He held it, of course he did, and so Mickelson and DiMarco have only half a point to their supposedly ominous names and instead of one the gap between the teams is two. America must hit hard in this morning's fourball. And they must do it quickly.
Lehman appreciates that and was saying as much in their hotel last night. He could have done so at the course, but Woods and Furyk had gone off in the sulk that still hints at a lack of team spirit. Woosnam has no such worries and has never looked more at ease in his two-year reign. Unsuited to the build-up, but eminently suited to the action, he was even willing to hold himself up to ridicule as he oozed confidence. "I gave one piece of advice out there and then that player ended up on a TV tower," he said. "After that, I thought it better to keep my mouth shut."
He was referring to an incident on the treacherous seventh, when he persuaded Karlsson to take a club more for his approach and the Swede flew the green and somehow came to land and rest 20ft in the sky next to a startled cameraman. No matter, Karlsson still contrived to make par and take the hole. It was just one of those days. Again.
Monty to sit out fourballs
Ian Woosnam will continue his rotation policy by leaving Colin Montgomerie out of this morning's fourballs along with Luke Donald, David Howell and Paul McGinley.
The Scot's fourball partner yesterday, Padraig Harrington, teams up with the Swede Henrik Stenson instead, while Woosnam keeps three other pairings intact.
Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood take on Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in the third game. Woods and Clarke are great friends, of course, this will provide one of the week's most intriguing, and emotional, contests.
Tom Lehman, the American captain, brings in Scott Verplank for the first time, but the debutant Vaughn Taylor has still to play, although he should figure in this afternoon's foursomes after Lehman reiterated his plan to play all his team before tomorrow's singles.
Woosnam already has, and so it will come as no shock to Monty to sit out the session, just as he did at Oakland Hills on the Saturday two years ago. The Welshman's tactics worked yesterday as Donald, Howell and McGinley all sat out the first session, but then came into the foursomes. They surely will again today.
James Corrigan: Pairings for this morning
* Tee-off times and pairings (Europe names first):
08.00: Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson v Stewart Cink and J J Henry
08.15: Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal v Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco
08.30: Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood v Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk
08.45: Henrik Stenson and Padraig Harrington v Scott Verplank and Zach Johnson
Postcard from the Emerald Isle Highlights of day one at the K Club
* SHOT OF THE DAY Darren Clarke - first shot, first hole. He hit the ball 320 yards, straight down the middle, with his eyes full of tears, moments after both of his opponents hugged him and the crowd had given him the biggest welcome in golf's history.
* FLUFF OF THE DAY Tiger Woods - first shot, first hole. Golf expected a statement when Tiger hit his first drive. It got one, a four-lettered one when Tiger watched his three wood duck hook into the water, some 40 yards wide of his target.
* BIZARRE MOMENT OF THE DAY Robert Karlsson won a hole via the top of a television tower. The Swede's second to the seventh flew over the green on to the 15ft platform coming to rest next to a bemused cameraman.
* QUOTE OF THE DAY "What is the Spaniards' secret? There is no secret. First it was Seve, now it is Sergio." Jose Maria Olazabal.
First day's results
* MORNING FOURBALLS (Europe first) Colin Montgomerie & Padraig Harrington
lost to Tiger Woods & Jim Furyk 1 up
Paul Casey & Robert Karlsson
halved with Stewart Cink & JJ Henry halved
Sergio Garcia & Jose Maria Olazabal
beat David Toms & Brett Wetterich 3 and 2
Darren Clarke & Lee Westwood
beat Phil Mickelson & Chris DiMarco 1 up
Score after fourballs: Europe 2½ US 1½
* AFTERNOON FOURSOMES (Europe first) Padraig Harrington & Paul McGinley
halved with Chad Campbell & Zach Johnson halved
Luke Donald & Sergio Garcia
beat Tiger Woods & Jim Furyk 2 holes
David Howell & Henrik Stenson
halved Stewart Cink & David Toms halved
Lee Westwood & Colin Montgomerie
halved with Phil Mickelson & Chris DiMarco halved
Score after foursomes: Europe 2½ US 1½