Tiger and Phil fail first test

Updated: September 17, 2004, 6:27 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- His superstar pairing of Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods 2-down through six holes Friday morning, U.S. captain Hal Sutton hardly seemed like the picture of concern.

When a fan behind the sixth green told him, "Down in front," Sutton turned around, smiled and said, "Now who is important for them to see? Me or you?"

He then joked, while motioning to Tiger and Phil: "By the way, if you have any suggestions for these two, let me know."

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson
Sutton's plan to pair Tiger and Phil backfired in the morning Four-ball.

Everybody laughed. But three and half hours later, the joke was on the Americans after Mickelson and Woods, the pairing Sutton put together to get the U.S. team off to a fast start, fell to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, 2 and 1.

It only got worse in the afternoon, as the pair lost 1-up to Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, just one of many U.S. defeats in a 6-point day for the Europeans.

The morning loss not only gave the Europeans their second point during a morning session in which they'd jump out to a 3 - lead, it sent quite the message through the rest of the course. After all, only two of the last 14 Ryder Cup champions have won the first morning's matches and lost the Cup.

"We knew they were the No. 1 and No. 2 guys in America, we were playing on American soil and to birdie the first four holes was not only required, but essential," Montgomerie said. "We feel like it was worth more than just a point to beat Phil and Tiger."

A month after USA Basketball's Dream Team failed to win the gold medal in Athens, Sutton's Dynamic Duo also turned out to be disappointing. On a blustery overcast morning more reminiscent of the Scottish coast in September rather than the American Midwest, Team Europe played as though it was at home, birdieing five of the first six holes and never looking back.

The Europeans overcame a throng of American fans that often stretched six and seven deep at times and began gathering three and four holes in front of Woods and Mickelson, the first pairing, in hopes of getting a view.

Europe's strong early start -- in three of the four morning matches they were ahead by the second hole -- took the air out of the American crowd, with the European fans often drowning out the subdued Americans on each hole.

Woods and Mickelson, playing together for the first time in match play, never seemed to get in sync. Mickelson struggled early, with Woods posting the low American score on each of the first five holes, but Woods struggled late, with Mickelson posting the American score on the last five.

They played decently, combining for 4 under through 17 holes, but they failed to do anything spectacular.

"We played well," Woods said. "We just didn't make enough birdies. I thought if we could get it to even somehow that it might turn the momentum. But we never got it to even."

Thanks to the Europeans, who seemed to make every putt they needed.

"They made enough putts to pave a road between here and Chicago," Sutton said.

When the final pairings for the opening-round matches were put in front of Sutton Thursday afternoon, he beamed with excitement, even going as far as to admit, "if (Langer) would have given me his pairings, I would have set them down in this exact order. I'm pretty happy about this."

But as the morning session came to an end, it was the Europeans who were excited. And Mickelson and Woods, whom Sutton decided to keep together for the afternoon Foursome matches, in which the two players will alternate shots, were looking for revenge.

"The European team had a great morning. They just about swept us here," Mickelson said. "But those things happen. Now we have to go out this afternoon and make some news for ourselves."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.

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