The United States team, containing a trio of champions with six major titles between them, suffered an unexpected whitewash at the hands of fired-up Italy on a day of shocks in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St.Andrews.
Costantino Rocca, beaten in a play-off for the Open Championship at the Old Course, drew on his experiences from 1995 to set the Italians on their way with a two stroke victory over Mark O’Meara.
Although O’Meara, the 1998 Masters and Open champion, conjured up a magnificent birdie at the 17th, Rocca matched it with a birdie of his own at the last to win 70-72 in the medal match-play format.
Then it was left to the unsung heroes of Italy, Massimo Scarpa and Emanuele Canonica, to deliver the knife between American shoulder Blades. Scarpa beat reigning US Open champion, Payne Stewart, 71-72 after Tom Lehman had failed with an eight footer on the last against Canonica.
The Italian’s par 72 to Lehman’s 73 was good enough to complete the clean sweep and threw Group One wide open. The surprises continued when New Zealand overcame Sweden 2-1 to set up a tremendous finale to the group stages. After two matches, all four teams have one victory each.
Group Two is poised for a similarly exciting finish, as Scotland, Japan, Paraguay and Australia are all level with one win out of two. Scotland, the host nation, were stunned 2-1 by Japan, thanks to some heroics from Katsuyoshi Tomori.
Tomori trailed Open champion Paul Lawrie by a stroke going to the 17th but made a solid par four while Lawrie found the road and took six to fall behind. With Sam Torrance losing and Gary Orr winning, it meant the outcome hinged on that one game.
Lawrie then pulled off the shot of a champion, holing his second shot for an eagle two and jumping up and down with joy as his ball disappeared to give him a round of 71. Tomori, though, pitched brilliantly to a foot for a birdie and a 71.
At the 19th, it was the Japanese golfer who prevailed, again knocking his second shot close for an easy three to Lawrie’s five after the Scot three putted.
In the same group, Paraguay’s Carlos Franco birdied the second extra hole to edge out Craig Parry and earn the team from South America a 2-1 victory over Australia.
Elsewhere, defending champions South Africa, stayed on course to reach the semi-finals after a comprehensive 3-0 win over India in Group Three, with Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and David Frost – the winning trio of the past two seasons – all shooting sub-70 rounds.
They now face England, for whom Lee Westwood (69) was the top performer in a 2-1 win over China, for a place in the last four. The South Africans are seeking to become the first country to win three years in succession.
Ireland and Spain are vying for the top qualifying spot in Group Four after both claimed their second successive win. Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal both shot 67s against Nick Price and Tony Johnstone respectively as the Spanish overcame Zimbabwe 2-1.
In the same group, Darren Clarke was the star performer with a five under par 67 against Marc Farry as Ireland earned a 2-1 success over France.