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Europe rises early to dominate Day 1

9/17/2004

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Hal Sutton wanted his best two
players to set the tone for the Ryder Cup. Did they ever.

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson got hammered in the morning and blew it in the afternoon, and the rest of the Americans followed suit Friday as Europe matched the largest first-day lead in Ryder Cup history.

This might have been the quietest day at a Ryder Cup, as most of the 38,000 fans sat in stunned silence watching Colin Montgomerie & Co. build a 6½-1½ lead without too much effort.

"I don't think we surprised ourselves," Padraig Harrington said. "That's what we set out to do."

Montgomerie and Harrington were the ones who set the tone, making four straight birdies to start their opening better-ball match. They never trailed against Woods and Mickelson -- the American "Dream Team" playing together for the first time in the
Ryder Cup -- and won 2 and 1.

"Psychologically, it was almost worth two points to us," Montgomerie said.

Europe didn't need the extra point. It had Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke also winning both their matches and again grabbing early momentum in these biennial matches.

"This was their day," said Chris DiMarco, who teamed with Jay Haas in an alternate-shot match for the only U.S. victory on an otherwise bleak day. The other half-point came from Chris Riley, who made a 6-foot par putt on the 18th hole to enable him and Stewart Cink to halve their better-ball match.

Europe matched the largest first-day lead, first set by the United States in 1975 in an era before continental players were added to the mix and the Americans seemingly only had to show up to win the shiny gold trophy.

The Europeans must feel the same way. They have won the cup six of the last nine times, and there was nothing Friday to suggest these matches would turn out any differently.

It took the Americans 70 holes and 6½ hours before they led in any match -- and not even that one lasted.

Woods and Mickelson seized early control against Clarke and Westwood in the alternate-shot match when Woods hit a towering 3-wood within 10 feet on the par-5 second hole. They won the next two holes for a 3-up lead, but that was gone by the 10th hole.

Mickelson, with one of several blunders, watched his wedge on the 11th spin off the front of the green and back into the fairway for a bogey that gave Europe its first lead in that match. And while the Americans scratched back to tie the match when Westwood couldn't get out of a bunker on the 17th, the final hole summed up
their day.

Mickelson teed off on No. 18 with a 3-wood, and he sliced it so badly that it one-hopped off the out-of-bounds fence and stopped only a few feet away, leaving Woods no choice but to take a one-shot penaty drop away from the fence. They wound up with a double bogey and another loss.

Woods also started 0-2 two years ago at The Belfry.

Mickelson, who left himself open to criticism by switching
equipment last week and not playing the course the last two days of
practice, now has lost nine straight matches in the Ryder Cup and
Presidents Cup.

Neither stopped to comment, sitting in a cart with their wife and fiancee as assistant captain Steve Jones drove them through a throng of reporters to the lockerroom.

Sutton was practically speechless.

"I'm going to have to look at the pairings pretty closely," he said. "I had a game plan for today, and the game plan (was) totally foiled. Tiger played pretty good, but not his best. Phil didn't play very well. We'll see."

The other big loser was Davis Love III, who never got past the
16th hole in either of his matches.

European spirits were high, but they have been down this road
before. They led 6-2 after the first day at Brookline in 1999,
eventually losing in the face of an incredible Sunday comeback by
the Americans.

"We got off to a good start," Montgomerie said. "That's all
it is."

Sutton showed up on the first tee wearing a Stetson hat -- a gift from the U.S. caddies -- that only enhanced the tough-guy image he talked up all week.

Maybe he should have left it on.

The Americans again played like they had everything to lose, and
they almost lost every match. Riley, despite missing several birdie
chances, saved the day with his par putt on the 18th.

Love and Chad Campbell, said by Sutton to be as "strong as new rope," combined to make only one birdie and suffered the worse loss of the day, 5 and 4, to Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

David Toms, the American star two years ago at The Belfry, didn't have a single birdie on his card as he and Jim Furyk barely put up a fight against Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, losing 5 and 3.

"When you don't play great golf on a U.S. Open setup, that's the way it's going to be," Toms said.

As for Woods and Mickelson?

"This might be one of the greatest teams every paired in U.S. history," Sutton had said on the eve of the matches. "They might even shoot 58."

Instead, they ran into the best tandem at Oakland Hills -- Montgomerie and Harrington -- who seized control of the match on the opening hole and applied relentless pressure the whole way around.

"I think the Americans are under a little bit more pressure than we are," Montgomerie said. "But that is for you guys to figure out and analyze. Our job is to win. And that's what we've done this morning."

And that's what they continued to do in the afternoon.

DiMarco and the 50-year-old Haas built a 2-up lead on the 10th hole and never led Jimenez and Thomas Levet get any closer. DiMarco, a jock in pleated trousters, was the most emotional player for the Americans, pumping his fist after every putt and urging the fans to make some noise.

"I want the guys to hear us," DiMarco said.

Apparently, they didn't.

Love and Fred Funk never gave themselves good chances at birdie.
Kenny Perry overshot the 15th green with a wedge in his hand just
when he and Cink were gaining momentum.

Europe left the cool, overcast day cautiously optimistic. "The
U.S. team obviously has something to prove," Harrington said.
"They're going to come out strong tomorrow, all guns blazing. It's
going to be a tough day for us."

Even when they played like world-beaters, the Europeans still
like to see themselves as the underdogs.