Continental Europe made a flying start to the fourth Seve Trophy, racing to a record 4-1 lead after the first day fourball matches at The Wynyard Club in North East England, as they seek to wrestle the trophy from the Great Britain & Ireland side.
GB & I captain Colin Montgomerie and Graeme McDowell put the first point on the board with a commanding 4 and 2 win over the rookie pairing of Marten Lafeber and Emanuele Canonica but before long the blue of Europe was dominating the board.
In the top match Thomas Björn and Henrik Stenson got an early point for Europe having got up early in the match and holding firm against Nick Dougherty and Ian Poulter with a two hole victory.
The experienced Spanish duo of José Maria Olazábal and Miguel Angel Jiménez birdied the first two holes to take an early lead against the Welsh pair of Bradley Dredge and Stephen Dodd, winning 4 and 2.
But it was the last two matches that swung the day in Europe’s favour as first the Swedish pair of Niclas Fasth and Peter Hanson overturned an early two down score into victory, Hanson closing out the tie with three successive birdies to go from all square with six to play to win by 3 and 2.
And in the final match, arguably the strongest pairing on the GB&I team, Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, were beaten by the French team of Thomas Levet and Jean-Francois Remesy on the final green which swing the match firmly into Europe’s favour.
Remesy’s final hole birdie secured a one hole victory to give Europe the biggest first day lead in the history of The Seve Trophy.
“It was obviously a good day for us,” said Olazábal. “The last match I think made a big difference in the day. If it had gone the other way, it would have been 3 2 and the difference would have been very slim.
“It was a great day for us. The boys played well. They managed to win most of the matches, so we are obviously pleased. But we have to keep working really hard because we all know that our opponents are no piece of cake, so they are going to be really trying hard tomorrow. And I'm pretty sure that Monty is going to give them a nice talking to. They are going to be fired up tomorrow for sure.”
Indeed Montgomerie did give his team a firm talking to with some strong words.
“We've had a bit of a meeting,” said Montgomerie soon after the final match. “The doors were closed. We will come out hopefully fighting and get as close as we can to the European total tomorrow night, and you know, we have to play better, simple as that.
“The last game, I believe it was vital. It could have gone either way, either putt could have gone in. If Paul had made his and Jean-Francois doesn't make his and Padraig is inside them, well, then that's 3 2 and of course we're in a very different position but we're sitting here 4 1.
“It's happened so often in that Ryder Cup situation where the game swings, and it's not just a point on us, it's a point off the opposition and it's a very big swing, that last hole was crucial today. And having won the 17th, I was confident of the Irish duo having at least half a point but it wasn't to be. The Europeans played well today as a team. They did very, very well, so all credit to them. We have to get on with things tomorrow and improve on all aspects of our performance.”
Neither captain broke up any of their pairings although the order has changed so there are no re-matches from the first day.
“I was confident at the start of the day with my pairings,” said Montgomerie. “I still feel the same way. We didn't score enough and I have to believe that those pairings can score better tomorrow. I could have switched everything around, and I think I'm the first person that's gone 4 1 down that hasn't switched a thing because I've got belief in them. So we will go for that tomorrow.”
“We're going to try hard tomorrow,” added Olazábal. “We're going to be fired up. Nobody wants to be losing this. I think we made that very clear. I'm very pleased with the performance of my team today and hopefully we will be able to play good golf tomorrow again. But we will see. I mean, as I said, we're going to have to really work hard in the next few days. This is not over by any means.”