Two Scandinavians, a German and a Spaniard spearheaded the European challenge in the first World Golf Championships event, the Andersen Consulting Match Play, at La Costa Resort & Spa in California.
Sweden’s Patrik Sjöland produced arguably the finest result of the first round when he knocked out world No.11 Jim Furyk by 5 and 3 to reach a second round showdown with Carlos Franco of Paraguay.
There were also impressive victories for Thomas Björn, former two-time Masters champion, Bernhard Langer, and another former Augusta champion, José Maria Olazábal.
While that quartet progressed into the last 32, however, there was no joy for Europe’s ‘big three’, Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. The top three on last season’s Volvo Order of Merit were eliminated along with Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam.
Sjöland was three under par in beating Furyk and admitted: "I had nothing to lose. Jim was the favourite so I could play relaxed golf and play my own game and try to hit as many good shots as possible.
"I had been struggling with my putting but finally got it going in the last round in Qatar, when I shot a 65. I played really good today. I missed only one fairway. "
Björn, drawing on his experience as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1997, ground out a hard-fought victory over Brian Watts, the man who lost a play-off to Mark O’Meara for the Open Championship last year.
The tall Dane was never ahead until he sank a short putt on the 18th green to edge out Watts - and the first thing he did was to praise the outstanding effort of Sjöland. He said: "In my opinion that was the performance or the day, to beat the world No.11 by 5 and 3."
Björn’s putter wasn’t working to his satisfaction, but he still managed to find every single fairway in reaching the second round - not something that Olazábal managed to do with any great frequency.
"I don’t know how I was level after nine holes" said Olazábal, who recorded a 5 and 3 win over Billy Mayfair. "I have to say I’m not pleased with the way I drove. Sometimes you have to fight to achieve a result and I did that today."
Langer, who beat Brad Faxon 2 and 1 in the last Ryder Cup, repeated that success over the same player, but this time by a larger margin of 4 and 2. It was Langer’s first competitive match play round since Valderrama, and he now meets one of the favourites, Vijay Singh, in the next round.
The experienced German commented: "I drove the ball very well. It was important to be first on the tee and put pressure on him and I did that. I didn’t putt quite as well as I would have wanted, but I feel happy with my game."
World No.1 Tiger Woods put an end to the challenge of six-time major champion, Faldo, while Montgomerie went down 5 and 3 to Craig Stadler, a local boy from nearby San Diego.
Montgomerie was quick to praise his opponent and said: "He played very well - never missed a fairway, never missed a green, in fact he never missed a shot all day. He played better on the day, simple as that."
There was also disappointment for Westwood, who lost 3 and 2 to another European Tour regular, Eduardo Romero, while Clarke’s gallant fightback against Andrew Magee came to a halt on the 18th when the American sank a tricky four footer for the match.
Woosnam struggled against Scott Hoch and lost 3 and 2 while Jesper Parnevik’s birdie on the last was in vain as Craig Parry of Australia also made a birdie three to close out a one hole victory.