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U.S. Makes the Wrong Kind of Splash

Woods and Furyk win the first match of the day, but that's the only American victory as Europe takes a 5-3 lead. Garcia wins twice.

September 23, 2006|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

STRAFFAN, Ireland — They landed in water, behind trees, in slimy mud and ankle-high grass, on cart paths and under flags. Sometimes, the golf balls even traveled where they were supposed to go, on the K Club's fairways and greens.

When the second day of the Ryder Cup gets underway today, the U.S. team has to believe that a lot more of those balls are going to reach the hole quicker than they did on a wet and wild Friday.

Look at it this way: The U.S. won the first match of the day -- and didn't win another. The Americans halved four matches, lost three more and come back today, trailing Europe, 5-3.

And there is little time to rest, Tiger Woods said: "Someone's on the first tee in ... hours."

Not long after Jim Furyk's swing cracked and he sent his approach to the 18th hole into a pond -- the unlucky 13th ball to get wet -- a rainbow appeared in the horizon. Maybe it was an omen of good luck on its way, because Furyk and Woods, who had won their morning best-ball match, didn't have much of it in their afternoon alternate-shot match against Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald.

Garcia-Donald pinned a 2-up defeat on Woods and Furyk, who had as many 6s on their scorecard as birdies, three of each.

Tom Lehman's star-power lineup of Woods-Furyk and Phil Mickelson-Chris DiMarco produced 1 1/2 points out of a possible four.

"We didn't make a lot of putts, I think that's the difference between the two teams," said Lehman, echoing a lament common among previous U.S. captains. "We hit a lot of good putts, just not enough of them went in."

Woods-Furyk won the first match of the day, but to mixed reviews. At the same time, who would have expected Chad Campbell and Ryder Cup rookie Zach Johnson to birdie the last three holes and halve their match with Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley?

And then there was Colin Montgomerie, calmly rolling in a six-foot putt at the 18th hole as he and partner Lee Westwood made Mickelson-DiMarco, who had been 1-up after 17 holes, accept only half a point.

The other alternate-shot match was also halved. Stewart Cink-David Toms were hard-pressed to find birdies -- only two in the last 13 holes -- and split a point with David Howell-Henrik Stenson.

It could have been a lot worse. When Woods-Furyk defeated Montgomerie-Harrington, 1-up, in the morning best-ball match, it broke a seven-match first-day losing streak for Woods.

In the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan, Woods and Mickelson were bumped off in the first match by Montgomerie and Harrington. That defeat was so deflating, you could almost hear the air escaping from a flattening tire. The U.S. wound up taking its most lopsided defeat in Ryder Cup history, an 18 1/2 -9 1/2 pounding.

But with Woods-Furyk getting the first point here, and then Cink and J.J. Henry coming from three holes down to halve their match against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson, the U.S. deficit was only 2 1/2 -1 1/2 in the morning. After morning play at Oakland Hills, the U.S. had half a point, so Friday's result was an improvement, albeit a small one.

Casey's 50-foot birdie putt at the 16th evened Friday's morning match, but Henry, a 31-year-old Ryder Cup rookie, was an unexpected surprise in his pairing with Cink and they played the back nine in six under.

"To turn it around on the back was great and hopefully gave us some momentum for tomorrow and Sunday," said Henry, who got a surprise when Lehman benched him for the afternoon matches.

Scott Verplank, a captain's pick by Lehman didn't play at all Friday, along with Ryder Cup rookie Vaughn Taylor. All the Europeans played.

Another Ryder Cup rookie, Brett Wetterich, didn't do much to help Toms in their morning best-ball match against Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal and the Spaniards trampled them, 3 and 2. Garcia had two points for the first day, more than anyone else.

Mickelson and DiMarco lost their first match, 1-up, to Darren Clarke and Westwood.

Clarke was clearly emotional, playing one month after his wife's death of cancer.

"I was nearly crying," he said of a reception that included hugs from both teammates and opponents, and a standing ovation.

"That was amazing," Clarke said, "the hugs from [Mickelson] and [DiMarco] as well on the first tee, and the reception I got, I'll never forget that."

During a wet and unpredictable morning, 10 balls landed in some kind of water. Woods had the first one, when his five-wood tee shot at the first hole never hit dry land but did connect solidly with a lily pad.

"I snapped it," he said.

If he'd had the strength, Woods might have snapped the tree on the first hole in his afternoon alternate-shot match, precisely where Furyk knocked his tee shot and left Woods to figure a way out. The ball was at the base of the tree and the only option Woods had was to flip his club upside down and swing left-handed. He advanced the ball about three yards.

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