Europe dominates first morning of Ryder Cup

Wednesday, September 15th 2004, 8:20 pm
By: News On 6

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) _ The United States sent out its Dream Team for the first match of the Ryder Cup, and it was all downhill from there.

Staring down Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the Americans, Europe got off to the best start by either team since the U.S.-vs.-Europe format was adopted in 1979, winning three better-ball matches and tying the other Friday at Oakland Hills to take 3 1/2 of the first 4 points.

Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington took care of Woods and Mickelson, the top two American players and paired together for the first time in the opening match.

Montgomerie got the Europeans rolling by knocking in a 10-foot birdie at the first hole, then finished off the match by tapping in an 18-inch par putt at No. 17 for a 2 and 1 victory.

``It was a super morning for Europe,'' said Monty, always at his best in the Ryder Cup. ``As a team, it was almost worth more than a point to beat Phil and Tiger.''

The rest of the European team was clearly inspired.

Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez routed Davis Love III and Chad Campbell 5 and 4. Jim Furyk and David Toms were treated similarly, swept aside 5 and 3 by Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

Europe had a chance for the first sweep of a session in 15 years until American Ryder Cup rookie Chris Riley sank a 6-foot putt on the final hole to salvage a tie with partner Stewart Cink against Paul McGinley and Luke Donald.

Amazingly, the Americans never led at any point of any of the four morning matches.

They went up for the first time all day in the afternoon, when Mickelson and Woods birdied the second hole of their alternate-shot match with Clarke and Westwood.

All it took was 6 1/2 hours.

``For Monty and Harrington to beat Tiger and Phil, that was awesome,'' European captain Bernhard Langer said. ``It was big, big point for us.''

The Europeans had a grand ol' time. Clarke and Jimenez puffed on cigars provided by the Spaniard. Garcia and Westwood helped each other read putts. Montgomerie and Harrington chatted all the way around the course.

The Americans? They looked shell-shocked.

``The European team had a great morning,'' Mickelson said. ``It's one match. We'll go back out ... and try to make up some ground.''

Four alternate-shot matches were set for the afternoon, and the Americans couldn't afford to get much further behind.

The last time a team swept a session was 1989, when Europe took all four better-ball matches the first day on the way to retaining the Cup at The Belfry. Thanks to Riley, the Americans didn't suffer another shutout _ much to the relief of captain Hal Sutton.

``It felt good to roll that last putt in,'' Riley said. ``Hal said, 'Thanks for not letting us get skunked.'''

The early play was true to form. Europe usually does its best work in the team phase, while the Americans always seem to be scrambling to make up ground on the final day, when 12 singles matches are held.

Europe has led after the first day at six of the last eight Ryder Cups, a trend that Sutton hoped to change by pairing up Woods and Mickelson.

It didn't work.

The top two American players strolled out of the clubhouse to huge cheers, but got off to an inglorious start. Woods drove his tee shot into a bunker, while Mickelson's pulled his under a tree. Both made it on to the sharply sloping green with their next shots, but Lefty struck a terrible putt that failed to clear a ridge, rolling back almost as far as he hit it in the first place.

Both Woods and Mickelson picked up when Montgomerie sank his birdie putt, giving the Europeans a lead they never lost.

Monty, improving to 12-2-3 in his last 17 Ryder Cup matches, also made long birdie putts at the fourth and sixth. He threw up his palms in disbelief when the latter one _ a treacherous downhill roll _ dropped into the cup.

Harrington, the top-ranked European player, chipped in with a 25-footer for birdie at 8.

Woods and Mickelson made three birdies on the front side themselves, but played from behind the entire day.

This was the first time in seven team events _ four Ryder Cups, three Presidents Cups _ that an American captain put Woods and Mickelson together. Sutton decided to change that as soon as he was appointed to the post two years ago.

``This might be one of the greatest teams ever paired in U.S. history,'' the captain said Thursday.

It didn't look that way on the first morning, but Sutton decided to keep Woods and Mickelson together for the afternoon matches. Lefty already had warmed up for that possibility by practicing with Woods' brand of balls the previous day.

The other alternate shot matches: Jimenez and Thomas Levet vs. Americans Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas; Montgomerie and Harrington vs. Love and Fred Funk; and Garcia and Donald vs. Cink and Kenny Perry.

Sutton knew his decision to go for one point with his two best players could backfire. Five years ago at Brookline, Europe got a huge lift when Clarke and Westwood beat Woods and David Duval, the top two Americans at that time.

Clearly, the Mickelson-Woods pairing wasn't about camaraderie.

They have never been the best of friends. On the first tee, their sometimes-icy relationship was evident as Mickelson stood on one side, Woods on the other. The Europeans, meanwhile, were chatting away, and Monty even yucked it up with a fan wearing an Irish flag and hat.

The Europeans had fun the rest of the morning, too.

``It's a good start for us, but that's all it is,'' Montgomerie said. ``There's still four rounds of golf to play today.''