Soggy start for U.S.

Europe leads Ryder Cup after wet, wild first day

Europe 5 United States 3

September 23, 2006|By Thomas Bonk | Thomas Bonk,Los Angeles Times

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- They landed in water, behind trees, in slimy mud and ankle-high grass, on cart paths and under flags. Sometimes, the golf balls even traveled where they were supposed to go, on the K Club's fairways and greens.

When the second day of the Ryder Cup gets under way today, the U.S. has got to believe that a lot more of those balls are going to reach the hole a lot quicker than they did on a wet and wild Friday.

Look at it this way: The U.S. won the first match of the day - and didn't win another. The Americans halved four matches, lost three more, and come back today, trailing Europe, 5-3.

And if that's not enough, there is little time to rest. As Tiger Woods said: "Someone's on the first tee in hours."

Not long after Jim Furyk's swing cracked and he sent his approach to the 18th hole into a pond - the unlucky 13th ball to get wet - a rainbow appeared on the horizon. Maybe it was an omen that there's some good luck on its way, because Furyk and Woods, who'd won their morning best-ball match, didn't have much of it in their afternoon alternate-shot match against Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald.

Garcia and Donald pinned a 2-up defeat on Woods and Furyk, who had as many 6s on their scorecard as birdies, three of each.

U.S. captain Tom Lehman's star lineup of Woods-Furyk and Phil Mickelson-Chris DiMarco produced 1 1/2 points out of a possible four.

"We didn't make a lot of putts. I think that's the difference between the two teams," Lehman said.

Woods and Furyk won the first match of the day, in the best-ball format, but as far as U.S. marquee performances went, their reviews were mixed. At the same time, who would have expected Chad Campbell and Ryder Cup rookie Zach Johnson to birdie the last three holes and halve their match with Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley?

And then there was Colin Montgomerie, calmly rolling in a six-foot putt at the 18th hole to halve his match with partner Lee Westwood and make Mickelson and DiMarco, who'd been 1-up after 17 holes, accept only a half a point.

The other alternate-shot match was also halved. Stewart Cink and David Toms were hard-pressed to find many birdies - only two in the last 13 holes - and they split a point with David Howell and Henrik Stenson.

It could have been a lot worse. When Woods and Furyk defeated Montgomerie and Harrington, 1-up, in the morning best-ball match, it broke a seven-match first-day losing streak for Woods.

In the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan, Woods and Mickelson were knocked off in the first match by Montgomerie and Harrington. It wound up as the most lopsided U.S. defeat in Ryder Cup history, an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 pounding.

But with Woods and Furyk getting the first point here, and then Cink and J.J. Henry coming from three holes down to halve their match against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson, the U.S. deficit was only 2 1/2 -1 1/2 in the morning. After morning play at Oakland Hills, the U.S. had exactly one-half of a point, so yesterday's result was an improvement, even though a small one.

Casey's 50-foot birdie putt at the 16th evened yesterday's morning match, but Henry, a 31-year-old Ryder Cup rookie, was an unexpected surprise in his pairing with Cink and they played the back nine in 6-under.

Mickelson and DiMarco lost their first match, 1-up, to Darren Clarke and Westwood.

Clarke was clearly emotional, playing one month after his wife's death of cancer.

"I was nearly crying," he said of a reception that included hugs from both teammates and opponents, and a standing ovation. "That was amazing, the hugs from [Mickelson] and [DiMarco] as well on the first tee, and the reception I got, I'll never forget that."

But Day One featured a wet and unpredictable morning at the K Club, where a total of 10 balls landed in some kind of water - pond, lake, river or creek. Woods had the first one, when his five-wood tee shot at the first hole never hit dry land, but did connect solidly with a lily pad.

"I snapped it," he said.

If he'd had the strength, Woods might have snapped the tree on the first hole in his afternoon alternate-shot match, precisely where Furyk knocked his tee shot and left Woods to figure a way out. The ball was at the base of the tree and the only option Woods had was to flip his club upside down and swing left-handed. He advanced the ball about 3 yards.

So Woods and Furyk began with a double-bogey 6, and it wasn't until Woods made back-to-back birdies at the 13th and 14th - the team's first birdies of the match - that they pulled even with Garcia and Donald.

It didn't last long. Garcia knocked an iron to within three feet at the 17th - "a beautiful shot," according to Woods. Donald made the birdie putt from that distance to win the hole after Woods could get no closer than 18 feet with his approach.

Then, needing to win the last hole to halve the match, Woods drove the ball into the fairway, but Furyk swung poorly, his hands flying off the club, the ball diving into the water.

Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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