Europeans Greet U.S. With a Good Morning

It was all about placement at the Country Club.

Not pin placement, point placement.

Only one point separated the two teams in the Ryder Cup after the Friday morning matches, but because that point was on the European side of the board, it changed the entire tone of the competition.

The Americans no longer looked like the heavily favored force they were projected to be. All of the worst accusations slung at the Americans were starting to look relevant: pampered, individualistic, arrogant mercenaries.

All of the best attributes of the Europeans came to the forefront: relaxed, confident and unified.

And so, after the morning results, it came as no surprise that the Europeans stretched that 2 1/2-1 1/2 lead into a 6-2 edge by the end of the day. No one faces more pressure or finds himself forcing things more than a favorite who is losing. Nothing fuels an underdog's confidence like an early advantage.

That one-point lead helped Sweden's Jesper Parnevik turn into a golfing machine who fired three birdies and an eagle on the first eight holes of the afternoon.

It turned Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke into world-beaters--or, at least, world-rankings beaters.

It left America's Phil Mickelson so shaky he couldn't find his way to the hole if a marshal pointed it out to him. Mickelson has shoes longer than some of the key putts he missed Friday.

If the Europeans were loose before the matches, by Friday afternoon they couldn't have been more mellow if they had been sipping drinks poolside in Maui.

"When we said we were underdogs at the start of the week, it was vital that we got something out of the first day--never mind getting a big lead," Westwood said after he and Clarke beat Tiger Woods and David Duval in the day's final match.

They got all they needed.

And they got so comfortable, turned the tide so dramatically, that this was the scene as the sun descended toward the horizon Friday: While Woods and Duval--America's best hope, the two top golfers in the world--were scrambling unsuccessfully to salvage half a point in the last two holes, Spain's Sergio Garcia was calmly eating a sandwich, with two victories already atop his short Ryder Cup resume of accomplishments.

Sure, there are 20 matches left to be played. But Europe needs to win only eight of them to get the 14 points it needs to retain the Cup.

Every little fraction carried great significance Friday.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland played one match and picked up half a point when he teamed with Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain to tie Davis Love III and Payne Stewart. That half-point was more than the combined total of Woods, Duval and Mickelson, and doesn't that pretty much sum up the state of the Ryder Cup, Day 1?

Nothing went as expected. That included the much-anticipated second match of the day, featuring Woods (with Tom Lehman) and Garcia (with Parnevik) in a resumption of the rivalry that began at the PGA Championship.

The golf wasn't very spectacular. Try as Woods might--such as his attempt to drive the green on the 310-yard fourth hole--he couldn't pull off a special shot. (That particular drive ended up in the gallery on the right side).

Garcia, the 19-year-old phenom, didn't have a magical, highlight-reel shot in the morning. But his short game was outstanding. He kept giving his team chances to win holes or halve them with great chips, bumps and long putts. That's what led to their 2 and 1 victory over Woods and Lehman, who blew an early 2-up lead.

If Woods' performance Friday was a major disappointment, then Duval's was an utter flop.

No one had more to prove this weekend than Duval. He was at the center of the great Ryder Cup pay-for-play debate. He offended many, including his own team captain, with comments that the players should receive more than their $5,000 stipend, and that the Ryder Cup was nothing more than an exhibition--all this coming from a man who never had participated in the event.

Duval didn't deserve a cent for Friday's effort. The best thing team captain Ben Crenshaw could find to say about him was, "David tried as hard as he could try today."

Perhaps we should give him a ribbon.

He needs to try extra hard to get back to the limelight for the right reasons. In the speedy world of golf these days, if you're not doing it, they're not talking about you. . . . Right, Justin Leonard?

With all of the Woods-Garcia hype, Duval has to be thinking, "What about me?"

Wasn't it Duval who was invited to the showdown with Tiger at Sherwood? Isn't he the No. 2-ranked player in the world?

He had to sit beside Woods during a news conference earlier this week in which Woods was asked about Sergio this and Sergio that. It got to the point that Woods had to remind everyone that "There's a lot of great young players in the world right now; I'm sitting next to one who's had a pretty good run."

Yeah, but what has Duval done when it counts, such as the majors and this prestigious competition? No victories.

His team needed him Friday. Tiger needed him. Woods had one of the shots of the day, a 25-yard chip he holed for a birdie on No. 10 in the afternoon match. But he could not provide anything else the rest of the way, and Duval did nothing to help.

He won't be of any assistance this morning, either. Crenshaw elected not to play him in the morning foursomes.

We all get the point.

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J.A. Adande can be reached at his e-mail address: j.a.adande@latimes.com.

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