England launched their defence of the World Golf Championships – Algarve World Cup in Portugal in stunning style as Luke Donald and David Howell combined for a 13 under par 59 to lead Australia and India by one stroke.
The English pair made a flying start in the fourball format and raced to ten under par after ten holes on the Arnold Palmer-designed Victoria Clube de Golfe at Vilamoura. But the momentum was lost with poor approach shots on the 11th hole and although they made three successive birdies from the 15th, Donald needed to hole a testing eight foot putt on the last to break 60.
“I knew the importance of that putt to make 59 so it was a big putt and I’m glad it went in,” said Donald, who won the title last year in the company of Paul Casey. “The conditions were perfect so you are not going to get it much easier. But with the foursomes to come and the weather forecast not great, that was probably the best the scoring is going to be.”
The Ryder Cup team-mates linked up perfectly, with Howell getting the ball rolling with two birdies and an eagle in his first four holes. Donald got his name on the board for the first time on the fifth and, after Howell birdied the sixth, Donald picked up another three shots to the turn. Howell birdied the tenth and at that point 18 under was looking a distinct possibly.
“The way we were playing, we had so much momentum on our side,” said Donald. “We were thinking we could birdie every hole. We had two par fives left but as soon as we made that par on the 11th we lost that momentum a little.”
“That was frustrating,” added Howell. “But we battled on and turned it around a few holes later.”
It is not the lowest round in the WGC – World Cup, three teams having previously shot 57 in the fourballs, but it was the first time either player had broken 60 in any competition.
India were the surprise package on the first day as Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal combined beautifully for a 12 under par 60 to put some on the more fancied nations in the shade.
"This will be big news back home. We love team games but it is normally through cricket. This will be huge for the game," said Atwal
While their experience gave the pair hope coming into the event, Atwal said their position came as a surprise.
"No one expects our team to do well or win," he said. "India has been in the World Cup before and not really done much. I don't think people know that we have a decent team.
"We came here with no expectations but we gained confidence by both getting into birdie positions at a lot of the holes.
"More than anything, though, we had fun and that was the key."
With just 120 golf professionals, mostly club pros playing on local circuits, India has only once before made worldwide golfing headlines when they beat Scotland and Colin Montgomerie, in 1996 to provide the shock result in the Dunhill Cup.
"We can both remember that happening," said Randhawa. "It was the biggest news we'd had in golf until Arjun won on the European Tour and I won in Japan and it got huge media coverage at the time. They'll get pretty excited about this, too."
Atwal has won twice on The European Tour, the 2002 Caltex Masters, presented by Carlsberg, Singapore, and the 2003 Carlsberg Malaysian Open, and this year lost a play-off in the Bellsouth Classic to Phil Mickelson on the US PGA Tour.
Randhawa has won in Japan and qualified for next year's European Tour.
Australia, represented by Mark Hensby and Peter Lonard, matched their score as they look to win the World Cup for a fifth time while the Wales pairing of Stephen Dodd and Bradley Dredge lie a shot further back on 11 under par alongside Niclas Fasth and Henrik Stenson of Sweden heading into the first foursomes session.