Ross Fisher enjoyed one of the great moments of his career yesterday afternoon as he won his first point in the Ryder Cup. If anything it was an even more important victory for Fisher's more illustrious partner, Padraig Harrington.
It was Harrington's first win under the intense scrutiny of the game's most fierce team competition for six years. Not since he beat Jay Haas in the singles at Oakland Hills in 2004 had the Irishman contributed a full point to the European cause.
Fisher and Harrington claimed one of only three victories for Europe in the first two sessions as this mud-splattered contest attempted to get back on schedule. They combined in a foursome to beat Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson 3&2 to give the home supporters a rare moment of jubilation.
It hardly started promisingly after Fisher drove into a bunker at the first hole. Harrington's second shot struck the lip of the bunker and the ball rebounded back into the sand. A double bogey followed.
Earlier, in his first-ever Ryder Cup match, Fisher, alongside Ian Poulter, had the weighty assignment of taking on the unbeaten Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Harrington, only here thanks to the generosity of a wild-card pick from the European captain, Colin Montgomerie, had been paired with Luke Donald in the opening fourballs and Monty had publicly questioned the pairing of two rookies as their opponents.
The inevitable happened. The unheralded Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson won the first two holes on Friday and yesterday morning completed a famous 3&2 victory. Harrington did not make a birdie, which in fourball golf is a crime usually punishable by demotion to the bench.
Montgomerie had no such option with all 12 players from each team on the course for the second and third sessions. In any case, foursome golf is all about steadiness, and after their opening faux pas, Fisher and Harrington did not squelch a foot wrong. Their American opponents bogeyed the third and the fourth holes and had to come up with a two at the seventh to level the match. But it was at the eighth that it all changed. After a fine approach from Fisher, Harrington dribbled in his first birdie effort of the week and then Mickelson's putt for a half lipped out.
At the par-five ninth, Harrington's long birdie putt hit the hole and left a certain par, only for the Americans to three-putt. At the next the Irishman hit his tee shot at the par-three to 15 feet and Fisher holed for a two. In the space of three holes Europe had gone three-up.
Twice the home pairing had to halve in birdies to stay ahead, Harrington from 10 feet at the 11th and Fisher from six feet at the 15th. Fisher holed the winning putt at the 16th and seemed to be operating on the principle that as long as Harrington read the putts, he would hole them.
"It was an absolute pleasure and honour to play with a three-time major champion," Fisher said. "He took me under his wing and I needed all his help on the greens." But the feeling remained that it was Fisher's more reliable form that helped Harrington rediscover his Ryder Cup stride.
"There's a lot of pressure," Harrington admitted of being selected as a wild card ahead of more in-form players such as Paul Casey and Justin Rose. "Monty made a great decision to give me some responsibility in looking after Ross, who played fantastic. It made me step up my game."
After three Ryder Cup appearances, Harrington had the enviable record of seven wins, one half and fourlosses. He arrived here still with seven wins, but three halves and 11 defeats, which became 12 yesterday morning.
In 2006 he was meant to be the star of the Irish contingent at the K Club but won only half a point. If there was the consolation of a team victory, the same contribution at Valhalla two years ago had no such silver lining. Harrington admitted he was mentallyexhausted after winning back-to-back majors a few weeks earlier.
Harrington has not won a tournament since but Montgomerie wanted his experience in the team room, however controversial the decision. Fisherand Harrington were rewarded with leading off the second fourballsession, which will conclude this morning before the closing singles.
Four birdies in the first five holes was more like the fourball form that is required at this level, as shown by the fact that it put them only one-up on the new American pairing of Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson when play was suspended after eight holes. Europe's fightback had begun.