Holders Great Britain and Ireland tightened their grip on The Seve Trophy at Campo de Golf Parador El Saler near Valencia. Colin Montgomerie’s side took the second day’s fourball session 3-2 to stretch their overall lead to 6 ½ - 3 ½ over Seve Ballesteros’s Continental Europe.
Once again Montgomerie was not at his personal best, the Scot and fellow countryman Paul Lawrie going down to the rampant Alex Cejka and Raphaël Jacquelin, but the seven time Volvo Order of Merit winner was content to let his charges bask in the glory.
“Overall I am very satisfied with the way things are going,” said Montgomerie. “My own personal results do not matter so much, just as they don’t in the Ryder Cup. This is a team competition and the team winning is the main objective.
“I have a good set of lads here with me this week and I now have a problem because they are all buzzing and I will have to leave a couple out for tomorrow morning’s greensome matches and tomorrow afternoon’s fourballs.
“It means six guys will play all day tomorrow, two will sit out in the morning and two others will sit out in the afternoon. But that is the way I intend to play it. I want everyone to play at least once tomorrow before they go into the singles on Sunday.”
Opposition captain Ballesteros admitted things had not gone quite according to plan for the home side over the first two days in their quest to repeat the victory they enjoyed in the event’s inaugural staging at Sunningdale in 2000.
“The day did not quite go as I had expected or hoped for but there are eight points to play for tomorrow,” he said. “These are important because I really think we need to get at least a couple of points back overall.
“I don’t want to go into the singles on Sunday three points behind because I think that might be a little too much. We did our best today but they were just a little bit better. But we will see how it goes tomorrow.”
Visitors Great Britain and Ireland ended the first day’s play two points in front and quickly extended that to three thanks to a fine showing from David Howell and Lee Westwood in the first match out on the course.
The English duo opened with a victory on day one against Continental Europe captain Seve Ballesteros and José Maria Olazábal and were even more impressive in tandem against Thomas Björn and Sergio Garcia, brushing aside the Ryder Cup duo by 5 and 3.
Westwood in particular was in sensational form, revelling once again in the match play format just as he did in last year’s Ryder Cup Matches against the United States at The De Vere Belfry.
The winner of two titles on The 2003 European Tour International Schedule started the ball rolling with a birdie three at the opening hole, added an eagle three at the fifth before finishing off the match with another eagle three at the 564 yard 15th.
“We have fitted well as a team, David has stepped in when I am not in the hole and vice versa, and as a result we are always going to be hard to beat playing like that,” said Westwood.
“We did the right things at the right time and that is what match play is all about. We are both relaxed with one another as well as a result it was a pretty good day all in all, we never really gave Thomas and Sergio a chance to get back into the match.”
On day one, the only success for Continental Europe came from the pairing of Cejka and Jacquelin and the German/French combination were quickly into their stride once again with a 2 and 1 victory over Montgomerie and Lawrie to bring the overall match score to 4 ½ - 2 ½.
The Scottish duo led in the early stages but a devastating run of three birdies in three holes from the 12th put the Continental European duo in charge and they successfully closed out the match on the 17th green after firstly Lawrie from six feet and then Montgomerie from four, both missed their birdie putts to keep the match alive.
“After yesterday’s win, Seve asked us if we would like to play together again today and I told him we would,” said Cejka. “We play well together, we get on well together and as a result we make a pretty good team.”
Another pair who won on the opening day was the duo of Paul Casey and Brian Davis and the Englishmen repeated the feat on day two against the same opponents, Ignacio Garrido and Miguel Angel Jiménez, this time winning by two holes, where the margin on day one had been 2 and 1.
Just as on the opening day, the match was nip and tuck all the way, never more than one hole in it all the way round until Casey intervened with majestic golf at the end of the round to move Great Britain and Ireland 5 ½ - 2 ½ ahead.
With the match all square, Casey found himself in the bunker at the back of the green at the short 17th but produced a majestic stroke, holing his sand wedge escape from 30 feet to move his team one up. Not content with that, the Englishman fired a superb approach to within six feet of the pin at the 18th and was not required to putt out for victory as the Spanish could do no better than par four.
“That shot at the 17th came just at the right time because I hadn’t been putting the way I had wanted to, had lipped out a couple of times, so to see the ball drop to go one up with one to play was very nice,” said Casey.
“It was very tense out there. Ignacio and Miguel Angel have both played Ryder Cup and they are obviously experienced. They put up a tough fight yesterday and it was the same again today so it was good to come through with another victory.”
With two matches left on the course, Great Britain and Ireland’s lead stood at three points and with the final matches going one to either side, that was how the day ended.
Firstly, the Swedish pairing of Niclas Fasth and Fredrik Jacobson eventually closed out Padraig Harrington and Phillip Price on the final green after a rollercoaster encounter.
Two up after 11 holes, the Continental Europe pairing were stunned as Harrington reeled off three birdies in a row from the 12th to put GB&I one up. Back came the Swede’s though and a Fasth birdie at the 15th , followed by a Jacobson 18 footer for birdie at the 16th swung the match back in their favour once again.
Fasth had an opportunity to win the match outright at the 17th but missed his birdie effort from ten feet but the 31 year old made no mistake at the last, a superb birdie putt from the back fringe dropping into the cup to secure victory.
It meant the final match out on the course was the intriguing tussle between the young English duo of Ian Poulter and Justin Rose and the vastly experienced Spanish duo of Ballesteros and Olazábal.
It looked far from being the last match left when Poulter and Rose, the only GB&I pairing to lose on the opening day, raced five up after 11 holes. But as has happened so often in the past, Ballesteros and Olazábal refused to give up and mounted a comeback.
Ballesteros started the run with a winning par three at the 12th before back-to-back birdie at the 13th and 14th from Olazábal began to implant some doubts in the English duo’s minds. But Rose steadied the nerves with halves at both the 15th and 16th before being conceded a winning birdie two at the 17th after an exquisite tee shot finished a mere five feet from the pin.
“It was tough to come out and face those two after yesterday’s thrashing but I thought we dovetailed well together,” said Poulter. “It is a long way back for anyone to come back from five down in an 18 hole match but I suppose if anyone is going to do it, it is Seve and Olly.
“They showed us that, no matter what you might think, a hole is never finished until the ball is in the cup and although they got a couple back, like we did yesterday on the back nine, they had too much to do and it was great to see Justin finish the match off.”