Emergency plan thrusts lesser players into the eye of the storm
Each man must play once today in tighter schedule as Europe try to recover footing
Saturday 02 October 2010
The Ryder Cup is not the Ryder Cup any more.
In their desperation to avoid the first Monday finish in the 83-year history of the biennial dust-up, the organisers and captains have decided the match will be played over four sessions instead of five. At the end of a torrid day there was only one thing to say – "what a shower".
Already it is different to every previous Ryder Cup as they effect the first format change in 40 years. Weather-willing, yesterday's four "morning" fourballs will be completed and then the new schedule will begin. Six foursomes will be played, and after they finish, two foursomes and four fourballs. Then the traditional 12 singles will conclude the match. It means that every one of the 24 players will play the last three sessions. Nobody will be benched and so an inherent facet of the drama has been sacrificed.
As it is the brunt of the sympathy should go to the locals. For Celtic Manor and for Wales, the biggest event they have ever staged has turned into a pitiful experience. It began on time with a Celtic roar to rival any ever heard in golf. But two hours later the torrential rain had reduced the course to a puddle-filled bog and play was suspended. For more than seven hours they waited for the rain to finally abate and then for the Twenty Ten layout to dry out. In those depressing hours many aspects of this event were questioned.
What did they expect in a Welsh valley in October? Why wasn't it played earlier in the year? When will it finish? What can they do to ensure that there is a better than evens chance that it will never again run such a big risk of running into a fourth day?
None of those queries was answered. Regardless of the manoeuvrings a Monday finish is still very possible. The forecast is dry for today, but morning fog could cause another suspension. Tomorrow is not promising, while Monday is a little better. For some reason (probably logistical) the golf event which is given more exposure than any other cannot run into a Tuesday. It means we could witness a scenario which would make the Ryder Cup a laughing stock. If it isn't already.
The captain's agreement says play will continue until sunset on Monday (6.43pm). Any matches by then will be deemed a half and a final score added up. For example, if the score stands at 8-8 going into the singles and Europe are up in all 12 uncompleted singles games then the final score, despite Europe's dominance on the course, would be deemed to be 14-14 and, as the holders, the United States would retain the trophy.
That is unlikely now and in many respects the unprecedented decision is understandable if not very palatable. But after yesterday, nothing should be taken for granted. Although the Tour was last night pointing out that the match will still consist of eight fourballs, eight foursomes and 12 singles, in truth the match has gone through a personality overhaul. They may as well give the 2010 Ryder Cup an asterisk.
Such was the shock of the schedule juggling, it was easy to forget there is a match going on. And with the fourballs nearing their climax it was actually a case of advantage USA. The visitors are up in two games, level in another and behind in one. Only Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer are doing the business for Europe, leading Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson one-up with seven holes remaining,. That contest is in the balance as is each one of the fourballs. Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar are two-up on the Ulster pairing of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell with seven left; Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods level with Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher with eight played after Poulter holed a 25-footer putt to make the scoreboard happier reading; the two rookies Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton are one-up on Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald with 10 left.
Pavin was chuffed with the American fight back. When the action resumed at 5pm they were down in three and up in one. They turned the momentum around and if they can press home their advantage when play resumes this morning Colin Montgomerie will be worried. It had all started so well as the opponents laboured in the rain. Ridiculously, the US team's waterproofs were not waterproof and their team golf bags were leaky, too. Their bodies were as soaked as their grips, leading the US to purchase 24 raingear sets in the merchandise tent.
But they shrugged off the memories of a first few hours after which Cink – the fourballs' star performer with five birdies in 11 holes – described the conditions as "the worst I've ever played in". The rain poured, the fairways became saturated and the players began to look like hackers. Not one of the Americans hit the par-four first green in regulation; indeed, three of them could not even find it in three shots. Woods took four and looked as miserable as anyone.
From there it got worse, with the play incredibly slow as the pros tried to locate dry patches from where to escape the puddles. Play was called and so the wondering began.
Most still are wondering and the general consensus is that the new schedule will favour Montgomerie's men. Europe have the most strength in depth but the Americans will be no pushovers. Celtic Manor can only pray the finale is dramatic as it deserves it after yesterday's extraordinary proceedings. A damp squib does not begin to describe it. An absolute shower does.
The New Format
Four fourball matches to finish
Six foursome matches
Two foursome matches to start
Four fourball matches to start
Two foursome matches to finish
Four fourball matches to finish
12 singles matches
Single matches to finish if necessary
Fourballs: The State of Play
Match 1 – Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer lead Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson one-up after 12 holes
One of three matches Europe led in when play was suspended but the only one in which they held the lead at the end of the day. Lee Westwood and USPGA champion Martin Kaymer went three-up at the sixth upon the resumption but Dustin Johnson birdied the seventh and then Phil Mickelson suddenly came to life with three birdies in a row from the ninth. Kaymer made two himself for halves to help out his partner after Westwood, the home side's most experienced player but an injury doubt in recent months, won three of the first six holes. Any suspicion that his short game might be rusty was dispelled with his exquisite bunker shot at the fourth.
Match 2 – Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar lead Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell two-up after 11 holes
No one likes the Celtic Manor greens more than Stewart Cink, who made five birdies. He holed a big one on the third before the delay and his touch was still with him when they returned to the course. His first act of the afternoon was to make a 60-footer at the fifth, then a 40-footer went in at the short seventh and a 20-footer at the 10th. The 2009 Open champion, mysteriously forgotten by captain Corey Pavin at the opening ceremony introductions, pitched close at the 11th for a birdie and the Americans, twice one hole behind early on, were now two-up on the Northern Irishmen, thought to be home bankers after starring at the Seve Trophy last year.
Match 3 – Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher are all square with Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods after 10 holes
Appeared to have a late swing to the visitors as Steve Stricker birdied the eighth and Tiger Woods birdied the ninth to put the Americans one-up. The pair won all four of their matches at the Presidents Cup last year but Ian Poulter was relishing the challenge of playing the world Nos 1 and 4. A brilliant putt at the third was worth the price of admission alone, as Poulter told some spectators during the delay when they were asking for a refund. Ross Fisher's first ever shot in the Ryder Cup ended lodged in a spectator's umbrella but he won the first hole, yet the home pair could not make a birdie on the resumption until Poulter's great effort at the 10th to square it overnight.
Match 4 – Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton lead Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington one-up after eight holes
No one wanted the golf to stop so early in the morning but the American rookies of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton had to be dragged back to the clubhouse after birdieing the first two holes. European captain Colin Montgomerie had publicly questioned the pairing of two newcomers on the first morning but the big-hitters gave their more illustrious opponents a shock as Overton holed a putt from a swale over the back of the first green and then Watson, only the third left-hander to play in the Ryder Cup, pitched stone dead at the second. Not until the eighth did Donald get Europe's first birdie of the day to go back to one-down.
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