Westwood and Garcia prove friendship works wonders

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The perfect pairing at The Belfry seems not to have broken its bond since the 34th Ryder Cup Matches back in 2002.

The perfect pairing at The Belfry seems not to have broken its bond since the 34th Ryder Cup Matches back in 2002.

The placid Lee Westwood and the fiery Sergio Garcia, who compiled a won three, lost one record in Europe's 15 1/2 -12 1/2 victory two years ago, took up where they left off in the opening set of fourball matches yesterday. They defeated David Toms and Jim Furyk, a pair of major championship winners, 5&3 as Europe roared to a 3 1/2- 1/2 lead.

The Europeans started briskly, just like the Michigan weather, winning the first two holes with birdies to put the Americans under their thumbs. They never let up, losing just the 11th hole, when each player three-putted from 40 feet.

Otherwise is was all giggles and grins for Westwood and Garcia, who smiled and interacted with each other and the large gallery that lined with fairways and devilish greens of Oakland Hills. The Americans, who made just one birdie (by Furyk on the 356-yard, par-four sixth that was matched by Garcia), were grim-faced.

Garcia got his team rolling with a 15-foot birdie putt on the first - that with Furyk nestled inside of 10 feet. It produced a confident fist pump that the Americans would see time and again. Westwood followed with a two-putt birdie on the 519-yard, par-five second hole.

Garcia and Westwood made just about all the important putts in the match, much like the other teams sent out by the captain, Bernhard Langer, yesterday morning. None was bigger than the 12-foot par saver over a ridge that Garcia made on the par-three third for a half that kept the momentum positive. Westwood fed off the good vibes on the par-four fourth, holing a downhill 15-foot birdie putt to push the European advantage to a comfortable three up with an anxious Hal Sutton, the US captain watching from the fairway as a pair he referred to on Thursday as his "anchor team" sunk rapidly. "It seems like the Europeans made enough putts to pave a road between Detroit and Chicago right now," Sutton said.

"We get on very well. That's the main explanation for it," Westwood said of his and Garcia's success. "We have a good time out there." That certainly was apparent as they applied smothering pressure to Toms and Furyk, who could not keep up with a team that played 15 holes in five under par and always had an answer. The biggest came on the 12th and 13th holes after the Americans won the 11th with a Toms par, the only hole they won in the match. Westwood delivered the fatal blows, with birdie putts from inside 10 feet on the 12th and 13th holes following the team's only dropped hole. The match ended peacefully with a half, with pars on the 15th hole.

"We're so comfortable together," Garcia said. "We both play our games and are nice and aggressive. We always seem to make a whole bunch of birdies.

"We both see the putts the same way," said Westwood, who played three practice rounds with his Spanish team-mate in anticipation of Langer's decision to pair them in the four-ball. "I know how hard he hits it and how much break to play." Westwood said the Europeans wanted to "come out fast" and received a boost when they saw Colin Montgomerie birdie the first hole in his and Padraig Harrington's stunning 2&1 victory against the top American pair of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

"That gave Sergio a good read [on his birdie putt] too," he said.

The Americans' expressions never changed throughout the match. Neither did their play. Both Toms and Furyk were off their games. Furyk, one of the straightest drivers on the PGA Tour, missed six fairways, finding the fairway bunkers on four of those holes. "I just never got comfortable with my swing out there and it showed in my play," he said. "We just never could gain any momentum."

"And we never capitalised on the birdie puts we had," added Toms. "We had a little trouble keeping it in play. That's not a good thing when you have a US Open-type set-up. Maybe it would have been a good morning for alternate shot, but not for four-ball the way we played."

Dave Lagarde is the golf correspondent of the New Orleans Times-Picayune