Continental Europe edged the first day of the Seve Trophy, taking the opening fourball session 3-2 to hold a slender one point lead over Great Britain and Ireland at The Heritage Golf & Spa Resort in Ireland.
It was a day when the new blood showed some of the more established performers what they are capable of with rookies on both sides impressing their respective captains, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.
Ballesteros had waxed lyrically earlier in the week about the talent at his disposal, and in the event newcomers Peter Hanson, Gregory Havret, Markus Brier and Mikko Ilonen all made valuable contributions to the Continent’s cause.
Meanwhile, just when it seemed that Ballesteros might ‘nick’ and even larger advantage over Faldo at the end of Day One, up popped GB & I new boy, Graeme Storm, with a crucial birdie putt on the final green to ensure a full point for himself and Nick Dougherty over the wily Thomas Björn and Søren Hansen of Denmark.
A crisp, sunny autumnal morning greeted both teams for the opening session, and at the close of play Ballesteros was able to enjoy his supper, secure in the knowledge that his team had drawn first blood.
“Nick and I both agree it’s been a great day for golf” said the eponymous hero of the Seve Trophy. “Both teams played great golf and the matches were very close. We ended one point better but as for the quality of the game, I am not surprised. These are all good players and great champions.
“I approached Nick on the 17th hole and said: ‘You have very good material for The Ryder Cup’ and he replied: ‘Yes, yes!’ I am hoping that we have more people come because it’s Thursday and so many were working today. I think as the week goes on there will be more people here.”
Faldo concurred, saying: “The whole set up and course is fantastic. We are trailing, but I’m glad we’re off and running and everybody is concentrating on golf. It’s great to be in this new position and watching the guys prepare. I’m out there observing and I find it quite fascinating.
“I’m making notes already. I think that’s going to be my stock line – I’ll make a note of that! I think I can gather an awful lot of information this week and it’s very important to me for next year (in The Ryder Cup).
“I think information is important, but Seve and I agree that you have to keep your cards close to your chest because there are things that will really make a difference to the players and there is no point in letting the other side of the pond know about it.”
Hanson and fellow Swede Robert Karlsson got the Continental team off to a flying start, defeating the Scottish combination of Colin Montgomerie and Marc Warren by 3 and 1. The Swedes were 11 under par when the match finished and Karlsson enthused: “It’s the first time we’ve played together but it was good because we are representing Sweden in the World Cup.
“We got our timing right. When I was out of a hole my partner took care of things and we were actually nine under after 11 and only two up! It shows you have to keep going in fourballs.”
GB & I struck back to win the second fourball, with Welshman Bradley Dredge and his English partner, Phillip Archer, beating the Spanish duo of Miguel Angel Jiménez and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño by 2 and 1.
As a Seve Trophy rookie, Archer admitted to some early nerves but said: “We dovetailed well and holed some important putts to shut the door on them when they tried to get back at us. It’s a completely new experience and I had some butterflies on the first tee, but overall it’s not bad just to be 3-2 down.”
Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin took care of England’s Paul Casey and Simon Dyson by the biggest margin of the day, 4 and 3, while Brier and Ilonen were 3 and 2 winners over Justin Rose and Oliver Wilson of England.
Ilonen, the first Finn to win on The European Tour, said: “I was a little nervous when I woke up as I was looking forward to this day. I wanted to play with Markus and it was a good mix. Three points for us is a good start.”
It looked as if the Continent might extend that lead when Björn and Hansen squared their tie against Storm and Dougherty with a brilliant birdie two at the 17th. However Storm delivered a rapier thrust by sinking a 15 foot birdie putt on the last to win a point.
“It feels marvellous” he said. “We dovetailed well and it was hard to pick a winner right up to the end. Europe got off to a great start so for us to finish off well can only help our confidence.”
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