The new tournament with the Ryder Cup style format delivered typical Ryder Cup excitement on the opening day of the Eurobet Seve Ballesteros Trophy at Sunningdale. Great Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe ended the opening day with honours even at 4-4 after a superb day of high quality golf and fluctuating fortunes.
Colin Montgomerie’s Great Britain and Ireland team stole a march on Seve Ballesteros by taking the first series of foursomes 3-1, but the Spanish skipper enjoyed the better of the afternoon skirmishes as the Continent hit back to win the fourballs by the same margin.
The tournament, conceived by Ballesteros several years ago but only born this year, lived up to its promise of being an exciting addition to the European Tour as huge crowds spilled into Sunningdale to witness the action.
Golf of the highest class and competitiveness transformed the Berkshire course into a mini-Ryder Cup battleground as the two teams put friendship temporarily to one side to contest every drive and putt with typical tenacity.
Great Britain and Ireland drew first blood by taking the opening series of foursomes 3-1. The key moment of the morning came in the third tie, in which Padraig Harrington and Phillip Price fought back from two down with four to play to beat Robert Karlsson and Thomas Bjorn on the final green, after the Dane missed a two foot putt for par.
Earlier, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke – the familiar Ryder Cup pairing – had got the Britain and Ireland side off to a fast start with a 4 and 3 victory over Alex Cejka and Bernhard Langer.
The English-Irish partnership was six under par for the 15 holes played, with skipper Montgomerie and Ian Woosnam were five under as they beat Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez 2 and 1.
The Continental side gained their first point of the match when Sergio Garcia and Jean Van de Velde overcame Open champion Paul Lawrie and Gary Orr 3 and 2.
Montgomerie said: “The last match on the course was very important. Phil and Padraig were not in front all day until the last hole and that’s the best place to get ahead. To be 3-1 up instead of 2-2 makes a big, big difference.”
Ballesteros commented : “It is very tight, as I expected. The foursomes matches just shwo that both teams are very closely matched. There was some unbelievable golf played and I was not surprised the public have come here in such large numbers. It confirms what I always knew – that the British fans are the best in the world.”
In the afternoon, it was a different story. Ballesteros and Olazabal were re-united in the top fourball to rekindle golden memories of past Ryder Cup exploits. However some of the magic had lost its glitter and Westwood and rookie David Howell were able to win the first point by 2 and 1 – even thought the British public seemed confused over who to support.
Howell laughed: “I hit a drive at the ninth which I assumed was over the back because there was no applause. When I got up there I was 40 feet away while Seve, whose shot was greeted with wild applause, was 80 feet away!”
Westwood continued: “I think if the other three matches hadn’t been trailing that the fans would have gone all guns blazing in support of Seve and Jose Maria. David and I talked about it on the way round. Seve is loved so much around the world, especially in England, and has such a solid fan base that is was strange to see him in opposition for a change and I think the supporters were unsure.”
Garcia and Jarmo Sandelin then set the standard for the Continentals by beating Montgomerie and Lawrie 3 and 2 in a match in which the combined teams were 15 under par, with the visitors collecting three eagles between them.
The German combination of Bernhard Langer and Alex Cejka beat Harrington and Woosnam 2 and 1 while Clarke missed a birdie attempt at the last which would have enabled the Irishman and partner John Bickerton to snatch a half against Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Ballesteros summed up the opening day by admitting: “Everyone is playing well and both teams are very equal so far. It’s going to be a very strong battle all the way until the singles. I have to say I didn’t really feel I was playing away from home.
“To me, being out there this morning and watching both teams, I felt this is like the Ryder Cup, the quality of golf they played and the response by the people and the atmosphere.”
Montgomerie added: “Obviously we had a good morning and the Continent had a good afternoon. It’s proved once again that this is a very even contest. I think it’s been a very satisfying day all round.”