Europe's domination of the Ryder Cup effectively ended yesterday as Paul Azinger's team of seasoned veterans and hungry newcomers fought, played and, more importantly, putted with rare defiance here as they banished nine years of humiliation.
American morale soared as they slammed Nick Faldo's side 3-1 in the morning foursomesto take the lead after a session for the first time since clinching victory with that astonishing final day fightback at Brookline in 1999. If one match encapsulated the story of a marathon first day, it was the opening afternoon fourball in which Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim beat Celtic Tigers Padraig Harrington and Graeme McDowell by two holes in a terrific match.
Harrington and McDowell stormed into a three-hole lead over the two Californians with three birdies in the first four holes after lunch.
Yet displaying a brand of confidence and aggression rarely seen in recent years, Mickelson and Kim picked up seven birdies in the next nine holes to take the lead at 13. Even though McDowell marked an impressive Cup debut by holing the duo's ninth birdie of the day with a 10-footer to square the match at 15, a winning 35-footer from Mickelson at the 17th for the US pair's 10th birdie threw down a challenge to which neither Harrington nor his partner could respond at the last.
If Mickelson flourished in the absence of injured Tiger Woods yesterday, rookies like Kim, Hunter Mahan, JB Holmes and Boo Weekley shook off the shackles of history. Justin Leonard and Mahan completed their second win of the day in short time, slamming Sergio Garcia and Miguel Angel Jimenez 4 and 3 to put the US 5-2 ahead with one match still on the golf course. Steven Spielberg could not have set up a better climax to the first match of the day. After 17 hugely dramatic holes of foursomes golf, in which Harrington and Robert Karlsson survived a series of unlikely escapades, Ireland's triple-major Champion had a 10 foot putt for victory at the last.
The script and recent history insisted Harrington's putt must drop – yet golf balls do not follow any script. They merely go where they are hit and Harrington's Titleist rolled a good three feet past the hole on the high side.
So, a few moments after duffing his escape from sand into the grassy bank above the front greenside bunker at 18, Kim showed maturity well beyond his 23 years by sinking a seven-foot putt for par and a precious half.
Harrington expressed "disappointment" at missing that chance but any problems he and Karlsson had yesterday really were not the making of the Irishman's putter or wedge.
Instead, the duo were too often wild and wayward off the tee in an encounter Harrington described as "classic match play because it was not classic golf." Europe's only other scorers yesterday morning were Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who looked on in relief as Jim Furyk and local hero Kenny Perry made a hash of the final two holes to gift them an unlikely half in the final match before lunch.
How different it all had looked a couple of hours earlier as the Europeans oozed confidence over the opening holes. Three out of Azinger's pairings lost the first. When Ian Poulter polished off a short birdie putt after a superb tee shot by Justin Rose into the third, Europe were up in all four matches and the US captain's policy of encouraging the locals to cheer missed putts by the visitors – a stance he later defended – seemed to be backfiring.
The visiting fans, though heavily outnumbered, also had the better of it in the pressurised atmosphere at the first tee, making even the home crowd chortle as they chanted, "Where's Your Tiger Gone?".
Harrington was chirpy indeed after firing the opening shot of this Ryder Cup into the heart of the fairway, though one could tell just how tense and tight he had felt by the truncated arc of his swing, a stiff neck affecting his usually fluid delivery. However, Harrington would still be smiling when he rolled home a four foot birdie putt to win the first hole.
Mickelson and Kim, must have wondered what the Viking gods of Valhalla had against them as they still trailed through seven holes even though their opponents had visited three hazards. Harrington's miraculous short game made this possible and even if he and Karlsson missed a couple of short ones to allow the Americans to draw level through the turn, a hat-trick of birdies put the Europeans three ahead with six to go. The Americans refused to yield, winning the next three holes in a row, a surge which the Irishman stopped only by making another trademark 15-foot putt for par and a half at 16.
Rose and Poulter also squandered a three-hole lead in the morning. Three up through seven, they failed to eke even a half point out of their match with Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell after an ugly three-putt from inside 10 feet at the last.Reuse content