Ryder Cup 2006: Johnson discovers secret of success to teach US veterans a lesson

Click to follow
The Independent Online

No wonder Tom Lehman was never worried about his rookies. Lehman's biggest concern should have been how he was going to get the best out of his star names. It remains a mystery to successive American captains. Without the efforts of Zach Johnson and J J Henry, the visitors would be mired even further in their Kildare bog.

As a quartet the American rookies hardly came with a glowing reputation. Tiger Woods, showing his team credentials, took them all out to dinner a few weeks ago to fill them in on what to expect. Woods rarely ventures out in a collective during a tournament but he picked up the bill and assured them they all deserved their place on the team.

Perhaps they could return the compliment and let Tiger know some of the secrets. Johnson enjoyed the finest of mornings with seven birdies as he single-handedly claimed America's only win in the second series of fourballs. Henry was once again involved in a dramatic fourball as he and Stewart Cink claimed a half for the second day running against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson. Karlsson and his tall, Swedish twin, Henrik Stenson, are the only two European rookies and both took to the event on Friday. Both are powerful hitters who make birdies for fun. Stenson made an unexpected appearance in the first-day foursomes and was the senior partner alongside David Howell.

Yesterday morning he was with Padraig Harrington, but after the Swede chipped in on the second, it was an Irish-American show. Harrington, with his best golf of the week so far, tried his best to keep on terms with Johnson, while Scott Verplank became a spectator. Johnson birdied four of the first five holes and, over the match, he and Harrington halved three holes in birdies. The Irishman got a hole back at the 16th and for a moment America's only hope of salvation from the morning session looked in danger. That was until Johnson chipped in on the 17th to secure a 2 & 1 victory.

"I was able to be more aggressive because Scott was there for par," Johnson said. "It was a team effort." "We were laughing, we were smiling, we told jokes," Verplank said. "I kept telling him he was doing great and I'd start playing well in a bit but it never happened." Johnson's only win on the US Tour came as a rookie in 2004 but he reached the semi-finals of the Accenture World Match Play earlier this year. A win and a half from his first two Ryder Cup matches was a great start. "Zach was fantastic all day," Stenson said. "We tried everything against them but it didn't work."

Henry did not play as well as on Friday morning but still made a big impact. A brilliant eagle at the 16th got him and Cink back to level with Casey and Karlsson and then he hit his approach to 18 inches at the 17th.

One-up playing the last, suddenly it appeared the US might square the session. Henry found the green in two at the par-five but it was a devious pin placement. His long eagle-putt ran down the hill towards the water and 10 feet past the pin. He missed the one back and could only watch as Casey knocked in a four-footer to halve the match.

"I didn't play as well as yesterday but I'm happy how we played together," Karlsson said. "The atmosphere in the team room is great. Garcia [nicknamed El Niño] talks a lot, he's a whole heap of energy swirling around the room. For me, Darren [Clarke] has talked to me a lot, and Colin [Montgomerie] and Padraig. Everyone has done their part in supporting the rookies."

"The crowd has been unbelievable," said Stenson. "They have carried us forward. It's been a great experience." Both the Swedes were rested yesterday afternoon ahead of today's singles but Johnson got a taste of his own medicine when Casey and Howell won four of the first five against his foursome with Cink. Vaughn Taylor was the last American rookie to be introduced, going out with Chad Campbell and snatched a half against the might of Lee Westwood and Montgomerie.