Woods leads the American resistance as nerves fail Casey

Requiring just three points to retain the Ryder Cup, Europe's golfers knew their opponents were not about to make it easy for them.

Requiring just three points to retain the Ryder Cup, Europe's golfers knew their opponents were not about to make it easy for them. America fashioned a record comeback five years ago at Brookline when they overcame a four-point deficit.

Bernhard Langer's team had an even greater advantage, leading by a mighty six points after a brilliant display in the fourballs and foursomes. In contrast to Brookline, it was achieved by a team stronger in depth and with everyone having played at least once on the first two days.

But the Americans' traditional superiority in singles appeared to be reasserting itself here yesterday. Langer had claimed he expected two points from the first three matches but the home team took early leads in all of the first five singles.

Needing points on the board fast, Hal Sutton, the US captain, merely lined up his players in the order they finished on the qualifying table, with Tiger Woods leading the way with Phil Mickelson and Davis Love following.

Knowing that Woods would be positioned at the head of the US order for the first time, Paul Casey accepted the responsibility but got off to a nervy start. Woods was two ahead by the fifth but the young Englishman got through the turn without the former world No 1 extending his lead.

Sergio Garcia found himself two-down to Mickelson after the eighth, but then won the next two holes to get back to level, while Darren Clarke was one-down to Love at the turn. Reassuringly for Europe, Colin Montgomerie birdied the first to get in front of David Toms.

Langer could not have asked for more from his team than taking a record 11-5 lead after two days, the biggest advantage ever since the current format was adopted in 1979. "I really couldn't imagine being in this position, not in my wildest dreams," Langer said. "I knew I had a very strong team with a lot of depth but I also knew how tough the American team is."

Saturday's play was a classic of its kind with America looking strong in the morning but only winning the fourballs by a point after Casey and David Howell came from one-down with two to play to win at the last.

Europe then repeated their 3-1 foursomes victory from the opening day and instead of Sutton's team collecting the minimum of five points they had hoped for on the day, Europe had extended their lead.

"I attribute the whole deficit to better putting by the Europeans," Sutton said. "It's difficult as captain, you feel helpless. You'd like to make a difference. If you can't get the putt in the hole then you are going to have a hard time winning the match. I thought this was the best putting team America had ever assembled. The stats say so. We made some putts in the morning that we haven't outside of then."

Sutton's strategy had been for his players to prepare individually during the practice days and not as partners playing fourballs and foursomes. His decision to pair Woods and Mickelson was taken two years ago, immediately after assuming his position.

"I'm not too worried about being second-guessed," he said. "This whole world is about being second-guessed. Everybody else has got the answer but nobody has been walking in these shoes.

"I have been second-guessing myself all the time. But I'm not going to lose any sleep over this. I did it the way I thought we should do it. I thought the world deserved seeing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together. I was determined to give them that. If they had had good karma together, they could have been grand. They didn't."

Mickelson, reunited with his Belfry partner Toms, gained the Americans' only point on Saturday afternoon with a 4&3 win over Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet.

But Clarke and Lee Westwood took care of Jay Haas and Chris DiMarco 5&4, while Garcia and Luke Donald held on to a one-hole victory over Jim Furyk and Fred Funk. For the second time, however, Woods got ahead in a foursome only to be defeated.

This time he and Love won the first two holes against Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley but the Irishmen rallied to win 4&3. "Walking off the second green, Paul said, 'You know, let's play the golf course, let's stop playing the two guys, concentrate like it's a US Open and try to shoot under par'," said Harrington.

"We've been pals for 20 years and that's the first time in his life he has listened to me," McGinley said. "We are not celebrating yet. We know there is a long way to go and the Americans are going to make it as tough as they can for us."

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