US charge into Ryder Cup lead

2008-09-20 07:41
Louisville, Kentucky - The United States took its biggest day one lead in a Ryder Cup for 29 years with a powerful performance on Friday.

The US team delivered four big comebacks to take a 5-1/2 to 2-1/2 lead, their largest margin after the opening day since continental Europeans joined the British and Irish in 1979.

"We're in a good place," US captain Paul Azinger said. "Who would have thought?"

The Americans hadn't led after any session since last winning the Ryder Cup in 1999. But with six rookies and no Tiger Woods, they lost only one of eight matches on Friday and left European captain Nick Faldo wringing his hands.

Europe has won the Ryder Cup the past three times, and five of the last six, but now finds itself desperate to catch up.

"We've had a tough time," Faldo said. "We lost a few points, but we haven't lost any spirit."

One of the few bright spots for Europe was England's Lee Westwood, who tied Arnold Palmer by running his unbeaten streak in the Ryder Cup to 12 matches. Westwood and Denmark's Soren Hansen birdied the last three holes in the final fourballs match of the afternoon, the final birdie enough to earn a halve against Boo Weekley and big-hitting JB Holmes.

"It's a novelty, isn't it?" Westwood said. "It's not the position we wanted to be in, that's for sure."

In a surprising move, Faldo decided to bench Westwood and Sergio Garcia for the Saturday morning foursomes. Neither has ever missed a Ryder Cup match - 27 straight for Westwood, 22 straight for Garcia. Combined, they have a 27-5-8 record in team play.

Rarely has a European captain shaken up his line-up so drastically. But then, rarely is Europe behind.

Played with heart

In the opening match, America's Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim trailed by three holes with six to play until winning three straight holes and earning a half point against Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson. Down by three after four holes, Kim gave them their first lead of the day with a 7-foot birdie on the 14th, and Mickelson dropped in a 20-foot birdie on the 17th that led to a 2-up victory.

"We played with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion today to pull the halve and win out," Mickelson said. "We have a lot of work to do. This is a fun day. I love playing with this guy. Anthony has got this youthfulness to him, and he has a lot of game."

It was a big day for most of the US rookies, who went 3-2-2.

Leonard teamed with one of those rookies, Hunter Mahan, and they won both matches without reaching the 17th hole. The afternoon victory came at the expense of Sergio Garcia, who finally looked ordinary in the Ryder Cup. It was the first time Garcia failed to win a match in a single day.

Garcia had been undefeated in foursomes but had to settle for a half-point with Westwood in the morning. Kenny Perry missed a 5-foot par putt that would have won the match on the 17th, then drove into the water on the 18th hole to allow Europe to catch them.

Leonard and Mahan then handed Garcia only his second loss in team matches by going 9 under through 15 holes, with Leonard finishing it off with a chip-in for birdie that had him pumping his fists.

Weekley, with a pinch of snuff jutting out of his lip and his arms flapping to exhort a spirited crowd, knocked in a 50-foot birdie from just off the green at No. 12 to give his team a lead it never relinquished.

Europe had the lead in all four morning matches in the first hour and only came away with one point. It was the first time since 1991 that the United States won the opening session of the Ryder Cup.

In the afternoon, Europe had the lead in three matches going to the back nine, and came away with only 1-1/2 points.

The Americans had watched 11 consecutive matches go to the final hole without winning until Chad Campbell, the final captain's pick, hit a 5-iron to 20 feet on the par-5 18th as he and Stewart Cink went 1-up over Ian Poulter and Justin Rose.

Poulter and Rose won the only match for Europe, a 4-and-2 victory over Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis.

Noise

But that wasn't enough to quiet the crowd.

"There was a lot of noise all day, from the first tee on," Cink said. "Just to hear them excited about the way we were playing for a change in the Ryder Cup was refreshing. I've never been able to experience that myself when we were ahead. So it's great.

Azinger told the Kentucky crowd - he called them the "13th man" - at a pep rally on Thursday night that it was OK to cheer if Europe missed a putt. He defended that remark as educational, and said the crowd did nothing to embarrass itself.

Westwood, however, took issue with Weekley whipping the crowd into a frenzy before the hole was completed.

"You walk a fine line when you start doing that sort of thing," Westwood said. "I don't mind raising your arms and whipping the crowd up. But at 12 when Boo holed off the back (of the green), I've still got a putt for the halve. There's no need to do it between shots. At least wait until we're walking off the green."

Westwood glared at him, and occasionally shook his head. But he kept his opinions to himself on the course.

"It's not my job to tell people how to behave," he said.

Harrington, Europe's best player with three majors since the last Ryder Cup, had no problem with the exuberance from the 23-year-old Kim, who high-fived Mickelson after an array of great shots and clutch putts.

"Anthony, it's his first Ryder Cup and he was excited out there," Harrington said. "And he hit some great shots at times, and he had a right to be excited."

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