Date: September 20, 2008

USA surges ahead

Lee Westwood dramatically matched a Ryder Cup record, but it was very definitely America&aposs day when the Ryder Cup began at Valhalla. Paul Azinger&aposs side, pumped up just in the way he wanted, opened up a 5 1/2-2 1/2 advantage – and they have never lost from such a position. But it could have been worse and it needed two great fightbacks from Westwood to limit the damage for Nick Faldo&aposs men, favourites before a ball was struck but no longer. First Westwood and Sergio Garcia won the last two holes for a half with Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry in the foursomes. Then the Worksop golfer and Danish newcomer Soren Hansen won the final hole of the final match to square things up with big-hitting JB Holmes and Boo Weekley, both of whom found water with their closing drives. With that Westwood took his unbeaten run in the event to 12 games – his last defeat was to Scott Verplank in the 2002 singles – and matched Arnold Palmer&aposs record. Hansen deserves some of the credit, though. Looking like going two down with two to play he chipped in at the 16th before Westwood saved another half on the next by matching Holmes&apos birdie. Earlier Padraig Harrington, winner of golf&aposs last two majors, was unable to prevent America making a magnificent start. Despite being three up in both his foursomes with Swede Robert Karlsson and fourballs with cup debutant Graeme McDowell, Harrington ended the first day with only one half-point. That was his total contribution to the European cause at The K Club two years ago, but with the United States crashing to a second successive nine-point defeat there it did not matter. This time it was mattering a lot. The home side, beaten in the last three matches and five of the last six, won the opening session for the first time since 1991 and when the two Irishmen lost on the final green to Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim it took them 5-2 ahead. Harrington and Karlsson had managed only a half against Mickelson and Kim from three up with six to play. In the afternoon it was three up after only four, but Mickelson&aposs 25-footer on the 17th – he was the furthest from the hole in two of the entire quartet – meant he and his young partner came to the last one-up. A drive into a bunker meant Harrington could do no better than par and McDowell, in sand by the green, could not get up and down either. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose had moments earlier registered Europe&aposs only win of the day, beating Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis three and two and so making up for throwing away a three-hole lead themselves before lunch. But Garcia went down four and three with Miguel Angel Jimenez to America&aposs star pair Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan. Leonard had not won a game in the event until today, but he and rookie Mahan – the man who said players were used as slaves in the week – had double success. In the foursomes they beat Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson, who were then rested. Poor Oliver Wilson did not get to play all day, whereas Azinger had got all his 12 into the action. Poulter was particularly keen to get something out of the day, of course. Faldo&aposs controversial wild card choice ahead of Darren Clarke had plunged his pitch into the creek on the 13th as he and close friend Rose lost their foursomes grip and his missed five-footer on the last settled it. Westwood said of his morning escape: “Any time you get out of jail it makes a massive difference and can be a momentum swinger.” Harrington was asked about the animated Americans, but did not consider they had overstepped the mark from what he saw. “I didn&apost see it – not in our match anyway,” he said. “We had a very sporting, but tough match.” Harrington was in the opening game for the third cup clash running. As in Detroit in 2004 he and his partner (it was Colin Montgomerie then) began spectacularly with a birdie, Harrington holing from six feet. After eight holes the Dubliner had treatment on his neck from his Australian sports chiropractor Dale Richardson – the man who played a major part in his Open victory in July after a wrist injury threatened to put him out before the start – but he said afterwards it was not a major worry. Faldo said: “We had a very tough morning, but the guys gave 100 percent.” “It is not just the games which turn, but also the emotions. You have to regroup and go again, but everybody is up.” “The crowds are really fair. Unfortunately they are outnumbering us pretty heavily up that 18th, but I warned the guys that would be the case.” Opposite number Azinger did not deny, meanwhile, he had told fans at a downtown rally the night before it was okay to cheer misses. “Essentially, when we go over there they cheer when we miss,” he said. “I don&apost think that the American fans are really into what the Ryder Cup is all about.” “It wasn&apost meant to be malicious and I&aposm really proud that the fans have been absolutely perfectly behaved this morning. It was kind of an education almost.” A delighted and relieved Poulter commented: “We managed to play well through holes 12, 13 and 14 where this morning we let it slip a little.” “It was nice to get a point back. We came out and played awesome and I&aposd like to keep this pairing going.” Rose added: “I am familiar with the US, but never this partisan. The European fans are real troopers, though. They make themselves heard and keep us going.” Westwood, 35 and never rested since he made his cup debut as Faldo&aposs partner in 1997, wiped the sweat from his brow for the second time in the day and said: “I am getting too old for 36 holes in a day.” “That was a good game, hard-fought and Soren made a fantastic chip on the 16th.” “Then I played the 17th as well – you&aposd expect to get out of jail with a half if he birdies the last three.” Faldo commented: “Any time you claw your way back on 17 and 18 it&aposs good.” “We&aposve had a tough day and yes American have played well and have got more points, but we have not lost any spirit.” USA 5 1/2 Europe 2 1/2 Mickelson / Kim def. Harrington / McDowell 2 up Leonard / Mahan def. Garcia / Jimenez 3 & 4 Poulter / Rose def. Stricket / Curtis 4 & 2 Holmes / Weekley & Westwood / Hansen – Halved