Roars reverberated this afternoon through The Country Club course as spectators watched some of golf's more talented players knock in long putts, longer chips and sky-high flop shots from all corners on the opening day of the 33rd Ryder Cup. But the players making those shots were mostly Europeans, not the heavily favored Americans.
By the time darkness was closing in on 11 1/2 hours of high drama, the plucky European team had taken a commanding 6-2 lead, demonstrating once again that it is never wise to describe its players as underdogs in this biennial competition, no matter how many top-ranked players are on the American side.
The Europeans won the first two matches of the morning's alternate-shot round, beating America's best two teams, then didn't lose in the four afternoon four-ball contests. When play ended in the early evening shadows, Europe needed only eight points out of the remaining 20 matches to win the Cup for a third straight time. A 14-14 tie allows the Europeans to retain the Cup; the Americans must get 14 1/2 points to win outright.
"Our team played well all day, but those [European] guys played tremendous," said U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw. "They just kept holing out. It's what happens in match play. You get a little ebb and flow, and it'll just keep rolling. We needed to see a few more putts go in, that's all I can tell you. They played some wonderful golf."
The 6-2 margin matched the worst American first-day deficit in the 32 previous Ryder Cup competitions. It was the same score the Europeans opened with in 1987 at Muirfield Village in Ohio when they eventually beat the U.S., 15-13. That year Crenshaw, then a playing member of the team, snapped his putter in frustration during the matches. Had he had one in his hands today, it might have met the same fate.
Crenshaw held a long meeting with his team this evening after the matches concluded, but a man considered one of the game's greatest putters might have been wiser to conduct a clinic on the practice green. The European side needed no such work, holing putts to halve or win holes all over the course, seemingly from daybreak to sundown.
The heroes for Europe were 19-year-old Spaniard Sergio Garcia and playing partner, Jesper Parnevik of Sweden. They won both their matches, beating Tiger Woods and Tom Lehman in the morning, 3 and 2, then knocking off Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, 1 up in the afternoon.
Garcia is playing in his first Cup competition and is the youngest player ever to compete in this event. He became the youngest to win his first two matches, and he punctuated his extraordinary day by holing out with an eagle on a 100-foot chip from the rough at the 14th to move his team to go 1 up for the match. He and his partner didn't lose another hole.
"A fantastic day," Garcia said. "The most important thing is two points for Europe, not two points for me. We played pretty good and Jesper was just unbelievable. The first 10 holes he played [in 7 under par] were the best 10 holes I have ever seen. It was the most enjoyable day of golf I've ever experienced."
Mickelson had one of the more miserable days of his pro career. He missed a critical 2 1/2-footer and several more inside eight feet in the morning round in a 3-and-2 loss to Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie, botched a four-footer at the 16th hole in his afternoon match, then pulled a six-footer right that would have halved his and Furyk's match with Garcia and Parnevik.
Meanwhile, Davis Love III went a long way toward keeping the American side from a total first-day disaster with some inspired back-nine play to help salvage ties in both his matches, including a 25-footer to win the 18th, his 36th hole of the day. He played with Payne Stewart in the morning against Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington and with Justin Leonard in a thriller against Montgomerie and Lawrie in the afternoon.
Much of the talk earlier this week had focused on the Europeans having to rely on seven first-time Cup players to hold off an American team with 10 of the world's top 16 ranked players. But today, none of the four European rookies used by captain Mark James were on a losing team.
Just as significant, America's top two players--Woods and Duval, ranked No. 2 in the world but playing in his first Ryder Cup--were unable to produce a single point. Woods, the world's top-ranked player, is now 1-5-1 in Ryder Cup play, and even the presence of his friend Michael Jordan in the gallery didn't help.
"Experience is overstated," James said of his rookies' inspired play, "but the ability to play under pressure is not, and I thought our men could [play under pressure]. It's nice to get off to a great start, but there's still a long way to go. I'm sure Ben has some cards up his sleeve."
Crenshaw surely thought he would play his trump card in today's final pairing when he started Woods and Duval against Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. But the two Britons produced a dramatic 1-up victory in near darkness on the 18th hole for Europe's final point of the day.
With the match even after 16 holes, Clarke made a critical five-foot birdie putt at the 17th to put his team 1 up with one hole to play. None of the four players made the putting surface in regulation at the 436-yard 18th, but Westwood's chip from deep grass came to rest a foot from the hole. The Americans conceded par and the Europeans secured an emotional victory.
The Americans won only one match, a 3-and-2 victory by Jeff Maggert and Hal Sutton over Westwood and Clarke in alternate-shot play. The two Americans stayed together for the afternoon, but trailed from the first hole and eventually fell, 2 and 1, to the all-Spanish team of Jose Maria Olazabal and Jimenez, who contributed to 1 1/2 of his team's points.
James was asked about his team's ebullient mood in its own short post-match meeting this evening.
"I'd say they were somewhat chuffed," he deadpanned.
And what does chuffed mean, an American journalist asked.
"Pleased," James said, with just a trace of a smile.
Colin Montgomerie -- Paul Lawrie, Europe
vs. Jeff Maggert -- Hal Sutton, United States
Lee Westwood -- Darren Clarke, Europe vs. Jim Furyk -- Mark O'Meara, United States
Miguel Angel Jimenez --
Padraig Harrington, Europe vs.
Tiger Woods -- Steve Pate, United States
Sergio Garcia -- Jesper Parnevik, Europe
vs. Payne Stewart -- Justin Leonard, United States
TV: 8 a.m.-6 p.m., WRC-4, WBAL-11
HOLE OF THE DAY
Par 4 n 436 yards
The United States got its only half-point of the afternoon matches at this long uphill hole. Davis Love III and Justin Leonard halved their match against Scotsmen Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie when Love ran in a long birdie putt. Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk also looked to halve their match with Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik with an eight-foot birdie putt, but Mickelson's effort slid just past the hole. Then Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke overcame the world's top two players when David Duval hit over a grandstand and Tiger Woods hit into the deep rough. The match was conceded when Westwood chipped within inches of the cup for a par.