Westwood loses on return as USA retain lead

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The Independent Online

No Lee Westwood or Sergio Garcia for the morning and no Padraig Harrington after lunch - all big calls by captain Nick Faldo - but Europe were still alive and kicking in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla today.

Trailing by three points overnight, Faldo's side cut their deficit to 7-5 by edging the second series of foursomes.

But when Westwood came back into the action it was to see an end to his record-equalling 12-match unbeaten run in the event.

Again partnering Danish debutant Soren Hansen they went down 2&1 to Boo Weekley and big-hitting Kentuckian JB Holmes, the pair they had halved with on the opening day.

Behind them, however, Ian Poulter - fast becoming Europe's star of

the show after all the fuss over his selection - and Graeme McDowell were one up on Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk with three to play.

And the other two games were all square entering the closing stretch. Garcia and Paul Casey had trailed at the turn to Ben Curtis and Steve Stricker, but the Spaniard birdied the long 10th, while Swedes Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson, two down with seven to play, took the next two holes off Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan.

The biggest hero of the morning was the player who sat out the entire first day.

England's Oliver Wilson came in for a debut alongside Stenson and a 28-foot birdie putt on the 17th completed a quite stunning two and one victory over Mickelson and Anthony Kim.

The two American stars had charged into a four-hole lead after only six holes, but as they fell apart at the seams with five bogeys in the next 11, the unfancied European pair seized their chance magnificently.

After Kim went in the water on the 434-yard 15th - he tried a virtually impossible recovery from being put in the trees by the world number two - Stenson and Wilson led and when the putt dropped two holes later Mickelson could not make his 20-footer to stay alive.

Top foursomes pair Poulter and Justin Rose had already got Europe off to a winning start to the day and McDowell and Miguel Angel Jimenez then birdied the 547-yard last to halve with Justin Leonard and Mahan, double winners on the opening day.

However, Furyk and local man Perry beat Harrington and Karlsson on the 17th to restore a two-point advantage for Paul Azinger's team.

Into the fourballs then without Open and PGA champion Harrington, who had no complaints after managing only a half-point from three games - and this two years after that was his contribution at The K Club.

Poulter, justifying Faldo's faith in him after all the fuss of him getting a wild card ahead of Darren Clarke, was going to be the only member of the side to play all five games.

He and Rose had had their second win in three games, beating Chad Campbell and Stewart Cink four and three to avenge their first-day defeat.

"There was a lot of unfinished business," admitted Poulter. "We saw the pairing and said 'let's get out of there and finish the job off.

"It was flawless golf. We have said for a while we're a strong pair and it was awesome."

Rose added: "Getting a point in the afternoon was important. It gave us confidence. We had the lead and started to fritter it away again, but the experience of yesterday helped."

This time they charged five clear and were out in 31, allowed it to close to two, but then crucially Poulter made a 15-foot par putt on the 14th.

Cink missed from nine, then went in the water on the next. Game over.

Westwood and Garcia had been rested for the first time in their cup careers.

The shock was that Westwood had just equalled Arnold Palmer's cup record of 12 games in a row without defeat and had done it with a brilliant comeback, while on the opening morning he and world number five Garcia had won the last two holes for a half against Furyk and Perry, a result which extended the Spanish star's unbeaten record in foursomes to 8 1/2 points out of nine.

Faldo had given his press conference before the pairings were known, so it was only on his return to the course this morning that the questions could be asked of him.

"I think the days of going all five ... well, the fewer guys the better," he said. "I wanted to rest them because it's a brutal week."

Although Westwood was suffering from foot blisters Faldo said he was "fine" and it had nothing to do with his decision.

Europe's captain, though, said that Garcia, who was on antibiotics last week, was "very tired" and even at lunch was "struggling. He was shot and he needed a rest. He wanted a rest."

Westwood said as he watched the action from a buggy: "It's the Ryder Cup and I would play with my arm hanging off.

"I never asked to sit it out. I never asked to rest. A couple of blisters are not going to stop me.

"But Nick is the captain and he wanted some fresh legs out there. At the end of the day it's a team and we have to play as a team.

"It's very difficult to sit it out because you can't do anything about it."

Westwood had played 27 series in a row - he made his debut as Faldo's partner at Valderrama in 1997 - and Garcia was at 22 after becoming the competition's youngest-ever player aged 19 in 1999.