Tiger v Monty. The perfect start to the perfect match. The curtain will not so much be raised at 8am on this Palmer Course today as yanked off its rail. Of course, there will be 14 other players throwing the first salvos at each other in the fourballs to fanfare three days of Ryder Cup confrontation and the redoubtable figures of Padraig Harrington and Jim Furyk will doubtless play as important a role in the opening quartet as their partners Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods.
But there is something of the meant-to-be in the talent of America colliding with the soul of Europe that might just sum up this entire event. Two years ago Woods and Mickelson were sent crashing by the old Monty-Harrington one-two and although, with the challengers looking more settled this time around and less inclined to combust spontaneously, this Friday eye-scratcher will still have significance that goes way beyond the one point on offer.
Put simply, Woods represents the new American spirit, the metamorphosis from individual into team player, while Monty encapsulates Europe's aura of one-for-all and all-for-one. If the former loses, it would be nothing short of a disaster for Tom Lehman's hopes of stopping a third, unprecedented, defeat in a row. While if Tiger wins? Well, it is never a shame to be beaten by him and for that reason Montgomerie must feel he and Europe have nothing to lose. Again.
"It would be a massive boost for us to beat that pairing," said Ian Woosnam, the Europe captain, yesterday. "And even if we lose it, there's three more matches left." Lehman tried to insist on something similar, but it did not sound nearly as convincing. In fact, after being roundly stuffed in the oratory stakes that have dominated the two-year build-up, the Welshman finally had his arm lifted yesterday after a simple, but telling declaration. "You know my motto is, I'm never scared of anybody, not even Tiger Woods." For Woosie, read Monty; for Monty read Europe.
Saying that, there are worse golfers to put your faith in, as Lehman emphasised with his own piece of Churchill. "If I had to put my wife's and kids' lives on the line with somebody making a putt, I would pick Tiger," he said. He found it irresistible. Just like Woosnam, just like the 45,000 fans who had so much fun in the sun that blessedly replaced the high winds in time for the glitzy opening ceremony, Lehman's focus is on that first match out.
Not that there is not plenty to draw the goose bumps from the other three fourballs. Darren Clarke was always going to have his great compadre, Lee Westwood, in his corner for his emotional trip back down the fairways after the death of his wife, Heather, last month and Lehman was always going to try to locate them on the order sheet. He did just that. If anything, Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco are as ominous as Woods and Furyk, and that last point of the morning will also have an inflated look to it. So the first and fourth dust-ups have an up-in-the-air look to them, but what of the second and third? It is here that Woosnam will feel most confident of banking a couple and it is intriguingly here that he showed his advantage in equality with a few selections that bucked both accepted wisdom and reputation.
The world Nos 9 and 13, Luke Donald and David Howell, have been sat down until their inevitable inclusion in the afternoon foursomes while the Welshman puts out a couple of untried partnerships. Sergio Garcia has been effectively asked to be Seve Ballesteros alongside Jose Maria Olazabal, but if that appears risky - the Spaniards are hardly regular paella sharers - the gamble is tempered somewhat by the fact that they are playing David Toms and Brett Wetterich.
It will take some performance by Toms to guide the rookie through his first Ryder Cup experience, especially as Wetterich has not even made a cut in a major to date. Lehman had few other options, though, as he has four unknowns and realises he must get something from them - quickly - and another in the unrecognisable shape of J J Henry must overcome his inexperience to join forces with Stewart Cink.
They take on Paul Casey and Europe's own debutant in Robert Karlsson. Both impressed at Wentworth last week (Casey winning the World Match Play) and both will carry the ball the required long distances on a course sponge-like after all the rain. They must be overwhelming favourites to collect.
So come 6pm, what can we deduce from the scoreline? Lehman admitted his side have a total in mind and, although he would not say what it was, he has obviously told his men to discard the old Ryder rules. Once they were fairly certain that parity on Friday and Saturday would be a good enough position from which to march clear in the Sunday singles, but that no longer applies. Not with Europe holding the greater strength in depth. It is as if Woosnam was confirming so to Lehman with his resting of Donald, Howell and Henrik Stenson. "I can leave out three of my highest four ranked players," he might have screamed. "What have you got on the bench?"
Not a lot, though Lehman has not put all his eggs in one basket. But there are still a few mighty ones in there in danger of being cracked. Montgomerie might just have been polishing Europe's collective sledgehammer last night.
Three days of intrigue: Where the Cup has been won and lost
Traditionally, Europe have excelled in fourballs and foursomes, and the US in the singles. However, the last two events have seen Europe trounce the US mano-a-mano. The Americans need to regain the initiative in this area if they are not to lose their fifth Ryder Cup in six.
1995 OAK HILL
Day 1 Foursomes US 2-2 Eur Fourballs 3-1
Total after day 1: US 5-3 Eur
Day 2 Foursomes 1-3 Fourballs 3-1
Total after day 2: US 9-7 Eur
Day 3 Singles 4.5-7.5
Final Score: US 13.5-14.5 Eur
Day 1 Foursomes Eur 2-2 US Fourballs 2.5-1.5
Total after day 1: Eur 4.5-3.5 US
Day 2 Foursomes 3.5-0.5 Fourballs 2.5-1.5
Total after day 2: Eur 10.5-5.5 US
Day 3 Singles 4-8
Final Score: Eur 14.5-13.5 US
Day 1 Foursomes US 1.5-2.5 Eur Fourballs 0.5-3.5
Total after day 1: US 2-6 Eur
Day 2 Foursomes 2-2 Fourballs 2-2
Total after day 2: US 6-10 Eur
Day 3 Singles 8.5-3.5
Final Score: US 14.5-13.5 Eur
2002 THE BELFRY
Day 1 Fourballs Eur 3-1 US Foursomes 1.5-2.5
Total after day 1: Eur 4.5-3.5 US
Day 2 Foursomes 2-2 Fourballs 1.5-2.5
Total after day 2: Eur 8-8 Eur
Day 3 Singles 7.5-4.5
Final Score: Eur 15.5-12.5 US
2004 OAKLAND HILLS
Day 1 Fourball US 0.5-3.5 Eur Foursomes 1-3
Total after day 1: US 1.5-6.5 Eur
Day 2 Fourball 2.5-1.5 Foursomes 1-3
Total after day 2: US 5-11 Eur
Day 3 Singles 4.5-7.5
Final Score: US 9.5-18.5 Eur
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