It was a great day for golf and a fantastic day for Europe as the opening day of the 33rd Ryder Cup Matches reached a compelling climax at The Country Club, Brookline.
At the end of an exhilarating day’s play, Europe lead the United States by 6-2 from the first series of foursomes and fourballs to press home their challenge for a record-breaking third successive time.
That represented Europe’s largest first day advantage since Muirfield Village in 1987 – the first time the Europeans beat the Americans on their own soil. On that occasion a 6-2 lead after day one was converted into an historic victory – now captain Mark James and his team will attempt to repeat that achievement a dozen years later.
Spearheading the European challenge were Jesper Parnevik and teenager Sergio Garcia, who finished the first day with two points out of two, while Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie weren’t far behind, collecting a win and a half from two starts.
In fact, it took an outrageous birdie putt from Davis Love III on the final green of the afternoon fourballs to prevent Montgomerie and Lawrie emulating the Parnevik-Garcia feat – and to prevent the USA being whitewashed in the series of fourballs.
The signs were encouraging for Europe after the morning foursomes, which Europe took by 2 ½ - 1 ½, but the afternoon was more than any of the raiding party from Europe could have expected.
Equally unexpected from an American perspective was the fact that both Tiger Woods and David Duval – the world Nos 1 and 2 – finished the day without a point to their name, while the European rookies, Lawrie and Garcia, finished with a combined haul of three and a half.
Parnevik and Garcia took out Woods and Tom Lehman in the foursome, while Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke atoned for the disappointment of losing to Hal Sutton and Jeff Maggert in the morning by completing a last hole win over the Americans much-vaunted top two.
Garcia, who was still an amateur six months ago, enthused: “It was a fantastic day. I really enjoyed it and two points for Europe is the most important thing – not two points for me. The team is the important thing.
“You know, we played pretty good and Jesper was unbelievable. The first ten holes he played was one of the best ten holes of golf I’ve ever seen. He was playing such great golf I just kept hanging in and and if he missed I was there to help.
“It was the most enjoyable day’s golf I’ve ever experienced – better than anything before. I mean, I have fun days at the PGA and in Ireland when I won, but this was different. The rookies have done well. Sometimes the people say things that are wrong and we are trying to prove that and just trying to play the best we can. It’s always good to have a lead after the first day.”
Parnevik, who produced the best golf of the day in the fourball match against Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk, added: “The first ten holes I played were unbelievable. I think I was seven under and I think that is the best golf I played under such pressure. I didn’t even think about it at the time – just afterwards.
“ I figured we might have broken 60 out there better ball. But Phil and Jim also played unbelievable and it was sad one team had to lose the match. When you shoot 60 you don’t deserve to lose. Overall Sergio and I played well. When I needed Sergio he was right there over the last five or six holes.
“It’s always tough being a rookie but it seems they have done well in the past and we need them to do very well again this weekend.
“We need as big a lead as we can because the Americans are playing unbelievable golf too, so we definitely need to play to our maximum. It has to be golf of this standard. It is not enough to shoot three, four, five or even six under. You’ve got to play outstandingly well to win. It was unbelievable golf today. All round everyone played well and we need to keep it up.”
Open champion Lawrie, who struck the opening tee shot of the 33rd Ryder Cup at 7.30am against Mickelson and Duval, said: “I’m very tired obviously. Both the matches were very close and demanding. This morning’s didn’t last as long but the afternoon was a really tough match.
“We didn’t play our best in the afternoon but we kept going and things began to happen when I holed for eagle at the 14th. Davis Love followed me in, which was a big putt and the one at the last was a hell of a putt. All square was about right I would say.
“One and a half points on my first day in the Ryder Cup isn’t bad but it would have been nice to have had two wins. I thought Sergio and Jesper were fantastic so overall things are looking good. It was a good day all round but we’ve got to keep it going tomorrow.”
For a brief spell during the afternoon, it appeared that the Americans might take the whip hand – until, in an amazing burst, Montgomerie made a critical birdie putt at the 13th, Lawrie made an eagle at the 14th (matched by Love) and Garcia chipped in at the same hole for an eagle.
That helped turn the tide and Jose Maria Olazabal – omitted from the first session – and Miguel Angel Jimenez beat Sutton and Maggert 2 and 1.
European team captain Mark James was unable to keep a beam off his face as he commented: “It was a good day for us, but it is only one day out of three. There is no complacency in the team. It was a good job well done.
“Sergio is a big, big talent but I must pay tribute to Jesper, who is the perfect foil for him. He’s a very clever guy, knows when to let him go and when to rein him in.”
James added: “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get as many points at every stage of the match. The score of 6-2 seems a lot. There are only four points between us and there are a lot left to play for”.