U.S. follows recent theme, trails Europe after first day

Saturday, September 23, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- The tears of Darren Clarke gave way to exhaustive relief for Colin Montgomerie. American red shifted to European blue on the scoreboard. A day that began in brilliant sunshine ended in gray skies and showers.

The Ryder Cup was 11 hours of relentless action Friday, with wild swings in momentum and emotion and the tightest opening day of matches in the 79-year history of the event.

All for a familiar result:

Europe is in the lead again.

Clarke delivered the inspiration, Sergio Garcia was unstoppable as ever, and the Europeans showed equal parts of depth and determination as they built a 5-3 lead, getting points from all 12 players on a team they claim is their best ever.

"I played all my players," captain Ian Woosnam said. "They played exceptionally well, every single one of them. I would have been happy with just one point, but being two ahead is great."

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk won the first point of this Ryder Cup, but it was the only American victory all day.

The United States did manage half-points in four other matches, however, and while captain Tom Lehman got into a cart with his face awash in frustration, it could have been worse.

Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the Americans were already down by five points at this stage. There was no reason to panic yet.

Even so, it looked for the longest time as though the U.S. would be tied at worst.

"It's a pretty fine line between no points, a half-point and one point," Lehman said. "We didn't get much going our way."

Seven of the eight matches went all 18 holes, including all four alternate-shot games in the afternoon -- the first time since 1969 that an entire session went the distance. No team ever had more than a 3-up lead.

The final blow came from Montgomerie, who made a 6-foot birdie putt to earn Europe another halve, although it looked as though he had won a major.

Time and again, Europe came through at the end.

Garcia and Luke Donald teamed up to take down Woods and Furyk on the last two holes of alternate shot. Garcia hit a wedge out of the rough to 2 feet on the 17th in the afternoon foursomes, and then Furyk hit his second shot into the par-5 18th in the water to lose the hole.

Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, unbeaten in the Presidents Cup last year, failed to win a match Friday.

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