LOUISVILLE -- How important is it to get off to a fast start the first morning? Well, only once since greater Europe joined the Ryder Cup in 1979 has an American team captured the cup after trailing in the first morning's session. That came at The Country Club in the event's most massive comeback. And, not since 1991 at Kiawah Island had Team USA taken the early lead.
During that 17-year stretch, the morning matches on the opening day have been contested at four-ball three times and foursomes the other six, including this year at Valhalla. The conventional wisdom used to be that the Americans were at some kind of inherent disadvantage in foursomes, as if the European side was comprised of octogenarians from the Scottish Ladies Golf Union. The fact is, the Euros don't play this quirky, quaint form of golf any more than the Americans do and, as of late, the U.S. has done it reasonably well--or, at least as well has the Americans have done anything in getting their heads handed to them five of the last six times. There are those who think alternate shot ought to be relegated to the ash heap of history but in no other format are these teammates more joined at the hip, more reliant on one another, than when they have to play each other's mistakes.
The morning momentum swings were as quick and stunning as the collapse of Bear Stearns. The Euros took the early lead, winning the first hole in three of the four matches. The Americans rallied on the back nine after Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim lost the 10th through the 12th holes and then turned around and won the 13th through the 15th against Robert Karlsson and Padraig Harrington, eventually gaining a halve. Their comeback seemed to pull the Americans along. Behind them, Justin Leonard captured his first full point in a Ryder Cup partnered with Hunter Mahan. The two Brits, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, butchered the 18th and lost their match to Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell.
The first true emotional casualty of the Cup, however, was Kentuckian Kenny Perry, who wanted nothing more all year than to make the American side and play in front of the hometown crowd. Perry and partner Jim Fuyrk, had the chance to hand Sergio Garcia, paired with Lee Westwood, his first defeat in a Ryder Cup foursome or four-ball match. Instead, they lost the 17th when Perry missed a six-footer to end it and then gave away the 18th when he drove it in the water.
Being behind was no reason for captain Nick Faldo to panic but the state of Harrington's health could have been. The winner of the year's last two major championships claimed he was fit afterward but needed his sore neck attended to early in the round and only seemed like himself when he had a putter in his hands, actually cold-topping a shot out of the fairway bunker on the 18th.
-- Jim Moriarty