Day 1 – Ryder Cup Matches – Morning Round -Foursomes (Alternate shot format)

Day 1 – Ryder Cup Matches – Morning Round -Foursomes (Alternate shot format)

Four years go this morning at Oakland Hills, I stood with my son Jeff behind the first tee in the members area as we had watched years of planning for this moment and 35th Ryder Cup matches to commence. The excitement and anticipation was almost overwhelming as the first match of Four-Ball was announced.

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods squaring off against two of Europe’s best; Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington. There stood Captain Hal Sutton, wearing a black cowboy hat along with PGA officials, caddies and a huge throng. After Mickelson’s drive, the cry went up “fore left” and that was followed by “fore right” off a major push by Tiger with his initial tee shot. T

he competitors drives were only somewhat better and as it turned out only 3 of the 16 morning contestants hit the 1st fairway. This first match ended with a 2 and 1 victory for the Europeans. It seemed ominous and turned out to be the start of the rout again by the Europeans that ended on Sunday with Team Europe having a point total of 18-1/2 versus the United States 9-1/2 points. Again this morning, Phil Mickelson will lead off for American team with 23 year old Anthony Kim (they asked Captain Azinger to play together) in the foursome competition (alternate shot) as selected by Captain Azinger. Mickelson’s aggregate record over the last two Ryder Cups is 1-7-1. Kim, with no Ryder Cup experience is three years older than four 20 year olds that have played in prevous matches; ironically, included in that group are Nick Faldo (1977) and Sergio Garcia (1999). Here are the results of the first morning of play with some commentary on the play of the four groups in foursome competition.

The United States team, for the first time since 1991, have the lead after the morning round 3 to 1. This comes as a result of clear cut, hard fought victories by the teams of Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan defeating Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey (3 and 2) and Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell beating Justin Rose and Ian Poulter (1 up), The Leonard/Mahan duo were two down after 2, grabbed the lead on number 7 and closed out the match on 16. Cink and Campbell even had a stronger comeback by erasing a 3 shot deficit to the Rose/Poulter combination and winning the hole with a birdie on the 18th hole when the Europeans made bogey.

Captain Azinger felt bad for the Perry/Furyk team (1/2 point) that held a lead from the 7th hole forward but lost a 2 shot lead they held on sixteen and then secured a half for the U.S team by finishing bogey-bogey. Lee Westwood referred to the finish as “getting out of jail” and can be a momentum shift for the rest of the team. The team of Mickelson/Kim also achieved a 1/2 point even though they never held a lead the entire match and missed a golden opportunity to win the match outright, but Anthony Kim left his bunker shot in the samd on 18. Azinger also said he is doing his best “to stay out of the players way” and that “every minute was like a roller coaster during the morning matches”.

The afternoon Four-Ball (Best ball) matches have several repeat pairings; i.e.Mickelson-Kim and Leonard-Mahan for the United States and Poulter/Rose for Team Europe. Captain Faldo has broken up the rest of the lineups and kept rookie Oliver Wilson on the sidelines for the entire day. He did put the Spanish team of Garcia and Jiminez out third. Captain Azinger has paired four of the five rookies together with Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis and the “bombers” J.B. Holmes and Boo Weekley hitting in the number 4 spot this afternoon.

These matches had the following results and brought the team totals for the day to 5-1/2 to 2-1/2 in favor of team USA. Europe’s points came on only one match victory all day as Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis lost to Ian Poulter and Justin Rose 4-2. All of Paul Azinger’s pairings seemed to click; especially the Texas connection-Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan who won both of their matches handily 3 & 2 and 4 & 3.The rookie pairing of JB Holmes and Boo Weekely in the final group playing Europe’s team veteran Lee Westwood and Soren Hansen was an awesome display of power and youthful enthusiasm by the Americans.

JB’s drives defied description by both American and BBC radio and television announcers. On #16, a 511 yard par 4 Holmes had 147 yards for his second shot. That’s a 364 yard bomb that was 100 yards further down the fairway than Mickelson’s tee shot had landed. On the “No Mercy” 17th hole, JB had 76 yards in on the 477 yard hole which is described as the toughest driving hole on the course, Too bad they didn’t win the match, but errant drives by both US players into the hazard on 18 resulted in a half point for Team USA. It is hard to believe that with six rookies and no Tiger Woods, the Americans only lost one of eight matches.

Captain Azinger explained after the first day, “Who would have thought?” The aggressiveness of all the U.S. players frustrated Captain Faldo enough that he has chosen to “sit” his two stars in the Saturday morning foursomes competition. Both Sergio and Lee Westwood will be watching from the Team Europe blue golf carts. Azinger has chosen the same lineup as Friday for the alternate shot format; he just changed the batting order, but the same players are paired.

Faldo has countered by bringing out the rookie Oliver Wilson (he was the only player on either side to not play on Friday) paired with Henrik Stenson. Jiminez and Graeme McDowell have been given the chore of slowing down the Texas connection (Leonard/Mahan). It was obvious that the home team with their play and connection to the 40,000 fans had their 13th man as Captain Azinger had hoped for. In basketball parlance in this state of basketball crazed sports fans, the American performance and fan support looked more like a “full court press.”

Jim Judge
GAM Correspondent