The great escape just eludes Faldo and Monty

Ken Jones witnesses a classic contest that defied atrocious conditions
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The Independent Online
Occasionally, there comes a sports contest to evoke immediate comparison with the best in history. The Ryder Cup foursomes that Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie fought out against Tom Lehman and Corey Pavin at Oak Hill in atrocious weather conditions, eventually losing at the last hole, proved to be one of them.

It had everything that golf can draw from its finest exponents. Determination, heroics, masterful shot-making. Most of all it had the remarkable fact that after just five holes there was only one way to describe the likely outcome. Already four down, exchanging rueful glances, Europe's top pairing were looking at a disaster. "Anything can happen in golf," somebody said, "but it will be quite a feat if Faldo and Montgomerie get back from here."

For Europe it had been the bleakest of starts, their two leading players not so much out of touch as caught cold by the aggressive golf that was thrown at them right from the first tee when Lehman stepped up and outdrove Montgomerie by 30 yards.

That and the deadly iron that Pavin fired to within four feet was an unmatchable statement and when Faldo made a bad error at the next, his chip from the fringe squirting wildly across the green, thing were looking ominous for the Europeans. Also losing the next, some relief came with a half at the fourth, but when Faldo's short putt for a half at the fifth spun out, causing him to express considerable annoyance, few held out much hope of a dramatic come back.

Then the situation changed suddenly. After Lehman missed narrowly at the par-three sixth, Montgomerie took full advantage of Faldo's fine tee shot to claw a hole back.

From then on the match became remarkable. As though intimidated when Montgomerie split the fairway with a long drive at the seventh, Lehman sent his tee shot so wildly right that Pavin was forced to take a drop, then only able to reach the other side of the fairway after hitting a tree. Another one back and now Faldo and Montgomerie were running. They strode with more purpose, smiles replacing scowls, confidence growing. At the 13th, Faldo holed from 35ft to square the match, but Pavin replied immediately, punching the air after his 25 footer at the next put the US ahead again.

It had become intense stuff. Shot and counter shot, dramatic twists of fortune. Lehman missed the green with his tee shot at the 15th, a tricky par 3 and it was back to all square.

Although drenched by the relentless rain, it seemed that barely a spectator deserted to the galleries. Cheers for one side then the other. At the 16th Faldo almost struck another mighty blow, his putt from more than 30ft finishing so close that he threw his head back in anguish.

On the 18th tee Faldo and Montgomerie were no longer looking at a disaster but a famous victory. But a small, barely noticeable abberation in Faldo's swing plane resulted in a drive that required Montgomerie to play out of the rough. Faldo's shot to the green found sand and with the Americans on in two it looked all over bar the shouting.

However, there was to be yet another tense moment. Far from putting the ball close enough to expect a concession, Pavin left Lehman with one of those putts that cause turbulence in the nervous system. Lehman did not look pleased, coming forward to eye the line anxiously. As Montgomerie had come up short from the greenside bunker, this was for the match and Lehman made it. Before they embraced, Pavin smiled gratefully.

In defeat, Faldo had a clear sense of what he had been involved in. "One of the great Ryder Cup matches," he shrugged, "pity the result wasn't right for us."