In the build up to this year’s tournament, the overriding image has been of a man dubbed by many as ‘Mr Ryder Cup’ – Ian Poulter. The Englishman conspired to spark a revival in the European side as they came from behind to win in Medinah two years ago. This time, however, it was considered a gamble by many to partner Poulter, who always attracts noise and attention, with a quiet unassuming rookie in Stephen Gallacher. Gallacher himself described it as a “dream” pairing, but in reality, it transpired to be anything but. From the first hole when Poulter uncharacteristically missed a short putt for a half, the European pair were under the pump. Credit must go to the American pair who showed no signs of being debutants as Jordan Speith and Patrick Reed both are. Instead, they oozed the arrogance of youth to breeze past a man short of form in Poulter and a player struggling to cope with being the lone Scot in the side in front of a partisan Perthshire crowd. The 5&4 result will do wonders for the American confidence but the European’s will just draw a line under it and move on.
When the pairings were announced at the opening ceremony on Thursday, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson knew what their captain expected of them – simply go out in the first match, dominate and win to breath confidence through the matches following behind. The ‘Ice-Man’ Stenson as Rose described him after the match was consistent throughout, as the pair were five under compared to the level par performance from their American compatriots. The pairing is definitely a strong one and will be used again in the afternoon foursomes against Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson. It was revealed afterwards that Rose was stung by a bee on the 10th hole shortly before holing a monster putt to move the pair into the driving seat. It would seem he hasn’t reacted too badly and nothing was going to stop him coming away with a point from that first match.
When they were two up with three to play, Martin Kaymer and Thomas Bjorn would have been closing out their match against Ricky Fowler and Jimmy Walker. Instead however, two birdies on the closing three holes saw the match finish all square and the Americans take a half point they probably didn’t deserve on the balance of play. Credit has to go to Fowler, who guided the rookie Walker through his first match in Ryder Cup golf, but also Walker himself who was not overwhelmed by the occasion. It was in fact Walker who holed out on 18 to earn his side the point after Kaymer and Bjorn both missed putts for the full point. Their reward for a hard fought half is a match up in the foursomes against Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
There was no other match-up which drew more attention than the final one out of the hat at the opening ceremony. Europe, pitting the number one and three golfers in the world in Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia against a US pairing that went undefeated in the 2012 tournament. Both pairs took control at one time or another in a nip and tuck with momentum swinging both ways. When the match reached its thrilling climax, there was a wonderful mix of big-game moments and obvious nerves taking their toll which humanised the contest somewhat. As it was, they came up the 18th all square and some errant iron play saw both Europeans find the bunker and could only manage a par, while Mickelson left his bunker shot stone dead for a birdie, taking the match 1-up and give USA a slender lead after four matches.
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