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Europe flourish in Ryder Cup

Last updated on: September 18, 2004 12:55 IST

Heavyweight United States duo Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson lost twice on the opening day of the 35th Ryder Cup golf tournament as Europe opened up a record-equalling lead of 6-1/2 points to 1-1/2.

Woods and Mickelson, beaten 2 & 1 in the morning fourballs by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, wasted an early advantage before going down by a hole to Europeans Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood in the afternoon foursomes.

"It was huge psychologically, a huge blow to the Americans and a huge help for the Europeans," Europe captain Bernhard Langer told reporters on Friday after his team had produced their biggest first-day lead in the biennial competition, equalling the U.S. performance in 1975.

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Ryder Cup match history


"I'm just thrilled it turned out that way for us. I'm very proud of the guys.

"They (the U.S.) know they have to come up with a lot more than they came up with today to win this Cup," added Langer after an overcast day of swirling winds at Oakland Hills.

Although the U.S. clinched their only match of the day when Cup rookie Chris DiMarco and veteran Jay Haas beat Miguel Angel Jimenez and Thomas Levet 3 & 2, Europe followed up with a 4 & 2 win by Montgomerie and Harrington over Davis Love and Fred Funk.

Holders Europe, who had led the U.S. by 3-1/2 points to a 1/2 after dominating the morning encounters, completed a memorable day when Spaniard Sergio Garcia and Briton Luke Donald beat Kenny Perry and Stewart Cink 2 & 1.

THE DIFFERENCE

"They (Europe) played like they were making things happen," said an angry U.S. captain Hal Sutton. "We played like we were hoping things would happen. And that was the difference.

"We've still got a chance, though. We are not out of this thing yet. We've got to get five points or more tomorrow. That's the target I've set them."

Playing the alternate-shot format, eight-times major winner Woods and U.S. Masters champion Mickelson had dovetailed superbly early on in their foursomes match, reeling off birdies at the second, third and fourth to take control.

They lost momentum, though, with a bogey-five at the 356-yard sixth before the Europeans forged ahead after winning the seventh, 10th and 11th holes.

Woods and Mickelson levelled the match at the par-three 17th, where Westwood failed to escape from a greenside bunker, but a wayward drive by Mickelson at the last allowed the Europeans to seal the win with a bogey-five.

In front of subdued American galleries, DiMarco and 50-year-old Haas at least gave the U.S. team some inspiration.

"We made some putts, we finally made some putts," said DiMarco, 36, after his partner had set up victory with a fine approach to within a foot of the flag at the par-four 16th.

BRILLIANT PUTTING

Inspired by a brilliant display of putting, Europe came close to 4-0 clean sweep in the morning foursomes.

Clarke and Jimenez drew first blood, beating Love and Chad Campbell 5 & 4, before Montgomerie and Harrington outplayed U.S. trump cards Woods and Mickelson.

Garcia and Westwood, a successful combination for Europe at The Belfry in 2002, grabbed their team's third point with a 5 & 3 victory over former major winners David Toms and Jim Furyk.

The Americans managed to avoid their first clean sweep in the opening fourballs since the 1989 Ryder Cup at the Belfry when Chris Riley and Cink finished all square after a tense battle with Irishman Paul McGinley and Englishman Donald.

Woods and world number four Mickelson had never before played together at the Ryder Cup and captain Sutton's high-risk strategy backfired as the heavyweight pairing failed to spark.

Montgomerie and Harrington birdied six of the first eight holes and, although Mickelson upped his game after the turn to give the Americans a whiff of a chance, the Europeans never relinquished control.

"It was very important for us to get off to a good start, and we did," Montgomerie said. "We birdied the first four holes and you can't really do much against that.

"It (the win) was psychologically almost worth two points to us. We dovetailed very well and, thanks to my Irish partner here, played fantastic golf."

Mark Lamport-Stokes
Source:
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