Reprinted from yesterday's editions
American captain Hal Sutton had said "there would be some hell to pay" if his dream team pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson failed to win on the opening day of the Ryder Cup. With some devilish delight, two different European twosomes instead created Sutton's worst nightmare Friday: back-to-back victories against the No. 2 and No. 4 players in the world.
By the time this breezy day at Oakland Hills had ended, Europe had taken six of the eight matches, winning three and halving the fourth during the morning best-ball matches and prevailing in three of the four afternoon alternate-shot contests. They opened a 61/2-to-11/2 advantage over the stunned Americans, loaded with top 20 players and major championship winners and considered the favorite, even if Europe has won three of the last four competitions and six of the past nine.
"We made history today," said Sutton, who wore a black cowboy hat on the first tee in the morning, but looked ready to circle the wagons by early evening. "It looked like they were trying to make something happen and we looked like we didn't want anything bad to happen. Who could have seen [Woods and Mickelson losing twice] coming? Davis Love didn't win a point. You could have owned me today if you had wanted to take that bet because I bet it all. I bet the ranch."
The Americans never led at any point in any of the four morning matches.
And Europe's five-point lead matched the largest first-day advantage in Cup history. The 1975 U.S. team also led by the same margin on its way to a 21-11 route of an English and Irish team.
If the Europeans, the 2002 winners, can take seven matches and halve the eighth Saturday, they'll have the 14 points necessary to retain the Cup before Sunday's 12 singles matches. As it is, they need only seven wins and a tie in the 20 matches over the next two days to keep the Cup in Europe. The United States needs 141/2 points to win.
"It has not" occurred to him that Europe can technically win Saturday, Captain Bernhard Langer said afterward, cautioning that the Americans could still come back. "Thanks for mentioning that. I wouldn't mind that at all. It would make Sunday a lot easier."
On Friday, Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington were formidable foes for Mickelson and Woods in the morning, making four birdies on the first four holes, six between them on the first eight and never faltering in a 2-and-1 triumph that immediately set the tone. Woods and Mickelson hardly spoke to each other in the morning round, and by the end of the day, their glum faces were studies in total frustration.
"It was psychologically almost worth two points to us," Montgomerie said of the opening victory. "We knew we were playing the No. 1 and 2 guys in America and on American soil. To birdie the first four holes as we did was not just necessary, it was required. We got off to a flying start, and it helped the guys behind us as well."
Montgomerie has never won a major championship but has been considered among the world's best players over the last two decades. He continued to add to his reputation as arguably the greatest Cup player in European history, pairing in the afternoon with Harrington to drub Davis Love III and Fred Funk, 4 and 2, in alternate shot. He is now 18-7-5 in Ryder play and has lost only two of his last 18 Cup matches.
"There have been very few days in Ryder Cup play that I have personally enjoyed as much," said Montgomerie, who made the team as a captain's choice.
"In anything, if you enjoy what you do, you're usually quite good at it. . . . I do enjoy the team format of this competition. That's proven. I just enjoy being part of a team, possibly more than I do having to play myself."
As they trudged off the course and toward their team room in an effort to regroup, the Americans' frowns and furrowed foreheads told the story. Only the morning partnership of Stewart Cink and rookie Chris Riley could produce a half-point for a halved match against Luke Donald and Paul McGinley. And Riley had to sink a tough six-footer to get that.
In the afternoon, fiery Chris DiMarco, another Cup first-timer, paired with 50-year-old veteran Jay Haas to post the Americans' only victory, a 3-and-2 decision over Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain and Thomas Levet of France. DiMarco got his gallery going with all manner of heroics, but this mostly American crowd was eerily silent from dawn to dusk, if only because the home country players gave them so little to celebrate.
There was generally no heckling of the European players, a far different atmosphere than they encountered in the last Cup in the United States at the 1999 event at The Country Club in Boston. Rather the cool air was filled with silence, or audible gasps when players failed to make putts or hit shots closer to pins.
"They got more and more quiet as there were blue [European] numbers going up, and that's the history of the Ryder Cup," Langer said. "If they don't have a lot to cheer for, why should they cheer? That's only human."
Woods and Mickelson looked very human in both their matches. They were only 1 down through the first 11 holes in the morning, despite the European birdie barrage, including putts of 30 and 40 feet Montgomerie made to win the fourth and sixth holes. Then Harrington, No. 8 in the world, got hot on the back nine, hitting approach shots to three feet at the 12th and 14th for birdies to put his team 3-up. The match ended when Montgomerie's two-footer for par at the 17th went in the cup.
In the afternoon alternate shot, Mickelson and Woods were soaring when they went 3 up after five holes against Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, who also each won two points this day. But the Europeans tied the match after 10 holes, and the teams were all square after 17 as well.
Mickelson has come under criticism this week for changing his driver and two woods in his bag, as well as his golf ball, from Titleist to his new sponsor, Callaway. In alternate shot, he had to use Woods's Nike ball, and was clearly off all afternoon. His tee shot at the 18th swooshed dead left, crashed into a chain link fence that was 60 yards from the fairway and left Woods with an unplayable lie. Woods dropped away from the fence, and his third shot through the trees was considerably short of the green.
Westwood, meanwhile, drove down the middle, and Clarke's second shot was short of the green at the 494-yard par 4. Mickelson spun a fourth shot to about 22 feet, but Woods was not able to convert the bogey putt. Westwood's third shot left a 12-footer, and when Clarke cozied the putt to within inches of the cup, the hole was conceded for a 1-up European victory.
Woods and Mickelson declined to be interviewed for television on the green and also walked away from reporters near the clubhouse as they headed to the range to work on their games. Later, Sutton said he was benching Mickelson for Saturday morning's best-ball session, and pairing Woods with Riley, his old friend from Southern California.
"We'll all be left scratching our heads on that" Sutton said when asked about Mickelson's change in clubs and ball, as well as not practicing at the South course the last two days. "We'll all want answers to that. But the most important person that's going to have to wonder about that is going to be Phil Mickelson."