Ryder Cup: Nerveless Europe master the foursomes

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The Independent Online

BEN CRENSHAW'S worst fears prior to the 33rd Ryder Cup were realised in the opening foursomes at the Country Club of Brookline yesterday morning as Europe took a surprise 21/2-11/2 lead. In the process, the visitors lived up to Crenshaw's assessment that America's last two defeats were the result of a superior short game and ability to hole out crucial putts by the Europeans.

BEN CRENSHAW'S worst fears prior to the 33rd Ryder Cup were realised in the opening foursomes at the Country Club of Brookline yesterday morning as Europe took a surprise 21/2-11/2 lead. In the process, the visitors lived up to Crenshaw's assessment that America's last two defeats were the result of a superior short game and ability to hole out crucial putts by the Europeans.

With the home side down in three matches for a time, the gallery could not get into the match. Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie led the way, beating David Duval and Phil Mickelson 3 and 2, while Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik gained an important point against world No 1 Tiger Woods and Tom Lehman with a 2 and 1 victory.

Even the halved match was to Europe's advantage as the two newcomers, Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez, held the experienced Payne Stewart and Davis Love at bay. Ironically, the only pair to be defeated was the one not containing a rookie. Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke were beaten 3 and 2 by Hal Sutton and Jeff Maggert.

"Again the Europeans have prevailed in the alternate shot," said Crenshaw. "It's their game. They love to play it. But this was only the first round and bestball is more our game. But, in matchplay, the putts have to go down."

Lehman got the crowd roaring shortly before 8.00am when he chipped in from behind the green at the first. Garcia and Parnevik went two down at the fifth, but won the next two to return to all square. The next four holes were halved, but Woods and Lehman bogeyed the 12th and Parnevik holed an important birdie putt at the 14th to match the Americans.

At the 17th, Woods spun his approach down a bank at the back of the green and Lehman was left with a 12-footer when Garcia had given Parnevik a birdie chance from eight feet. Lehman's putt, like many he hit, was struck well but just missed while the Swede found the cup. "We knew it would be a tough match," Garcia, at 19 the youngest-ever player in the Ryder Cup, said. "But we held our games together well and at the end we were playing really well."

Three of the four players in the top foursome have long been expected to win a major. But it was Lawrie, the Open champion, who struck the first shot of the match. Understandably, his swing suggested a few nerves, but the drive only just leaked into the right rough. As the Americans did exactly the same, no damage was done. "It wasn't a nice experience but a great one to have," Lawrie said.

Montgomerie holed 10-footers for par at the first two holes as the first five holes were halved, but the sixth proved a rare occasion when the Americans' short game bettered their opponents. While the Scot could not get down from a greenside bunker, Mickelson pitched to a foot from 40 yards.

It proved the only time Duval and Mickelson, who combined for only half a point in three games at the Presidents Cup, were ahead in the match. Edgy early on, Lawrie grew in confidence alongside his partner and holed from eight feet to square the match at the next.

They briefly went one up, only to lose the long ninth, but regained the lead when the Americans failed to get up and down from beside the 10th green. Both teams were short at the difficult 12th, but Lawrie again holed the putt and a fine chip from Montgomerie at the 14th, where Mickelson missed from four feet, put them three up.

Two holes later Europe had the first point on the board. "To play a US Open course and not make a bogey at alternate shot was very impressive," Mickelson said. "We put ourselves in a number of good positions but I didn't close out the putts." Said Montgomerie: "I had been putting very poorly up to this stage, but the Ryder Cup brings out the best in me. What an event this is - is there anything else like this in sport?"

The last time two Europeans played together in the opening foursomes, Montgomerie and David Gilford lost comfortably at Kiawah Island. But, though Stewart and Love were two holes ahead as early as the fourth, Jimenez and Harrington got back to square at the 10th and went one up at the 12th.

The pair proved adept at scrambling their way around the course and the only time pressure got to either of them was when the Spaniard carved his drive into the trees at the 17th. All square playing the last, first Love and then Harrington had putts for birdie but the hole was halved in pars.

Westwood and Clarke, two-up after four, did not drop a shot but lost five holes to birdies by Maggert and Sutton, including three in a row from the sixth. The British pair again took the anchor role in the afternoon fourballs, taking on Woods and Duval.

The only change made by James was to bring in Jose Maria Olazabal, who earlier worked on his driving after missing a series for the first time in his sixth Ryder Cup, to partner Jimenez instead of Harrington.But, with the forecast for the breeze to increase, Crenshaw went with three new pairings to bring in two accomplished wind players, Justin Leonard and Jim Furyk.

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