Staring down Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the rest of the Americans, Europe got off to a stunning start Friday at Oakland Hills. winning three better-ball matches and tying in the other to take 3 1/2 of the first 4 points.
Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington took care of Woods and Mickelson, the top two American players and paired together for the first time in the opening match.
Montgomerie got the Europeans rolling by knocking in a 10-foot birdie at the first hole, then finished off the match by tapping in an 18-inch par putt at No. 17 for a 2-and-1 victory.
'It was a super morning for Europe,' said Monty, always at his best in the Ryder Cup. 'As a team, it was almost worth more than a point to beat Phil and Tiger.'
The rest of the European team was clearly inspired.
Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez routed Davis Love III and Chad Campbell, 5 and 4. Jim Furyk and David Toms were treated similarly, swept aside, 5 and 3, by Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.
Europe had a chance for the first sweep of a session in 15 years until American Ryder Cup rookie Chris Riley sank a 6-foot putt on the final hole to salvage a tie with partner Stewart Cink against Paul McGinley and Luke Donald.
Amazingly, the Americans never led at any point of the four morning matches.
The Europeans had a grand ol' time. Clarke and Jimenez puffed on cigars provided by the Spaniard. Garcia and Westwood helped each other read putts. Montgomerie and Harrington chatted all the way around the course.
The Americans? They looked shell-shocked.
'The European team had a great morning,' Mickelson said. 'It's one match. We'll go back out this af ternoon and try to make up some ground.'
Four alternate-shot matches were scheduled for the afternoon.
The last time a team swept a session was 1989, when Europe took all four better-ball matches the first day on the way to retaining the Cup at The Belfry.
The early play was true to form. Europe usually does its best work in the team phase, while the Americans always seem to be scrambling to make up ground on the final day, when 12 singles matches are held.
Europe has led after the first day at six of the last eight Ryder Cups, a trend that U.S. captain Hal Sutton hoped to change by pairing up Woods and Mickelson.
'I felt like history needed it. I felt like the fans needed it,' Sutton said Thursday at the opening ceremony. 'And most of all, I felt like Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods needed it.'
The top two American players strolled out of the clubhouse to huge cheers, but got off to an inglorious start. Woods drove his tee shot into a bunker, while Mickelson's pulled his under a tree. Both made it on to the sharply sloping green with their next shots, but Lefty struck a terrible putt that failed to clear a ridge, rolling back almost as far as he hit it in the first place.
Both Woods and Mickelson picked up when Montgomerie sank his birdie putt, giving the Europeans a lead they never lost.
Monty, improving to 12-2-3 in his last 17 Ryder Cup matches, also made long birdie putts at the fourth and sixth. Harrington, the top-ranked European player, chipped in with a 25-footer for birdie at eight.
Woods and Mickelson tried to hang tough, making three birdies on the front side themselves. It wasn't enough.
This was the first time in seven team events -- four Ryder Cups, three Presidents Cups -- that an American captain put Woods and Mickelson together. Sutton decided to change that as soon as he was appointed to the post two years ago.
'This might be one of the greatest teams ever paired in U.S. history,' the captain said.
It didn't look that way on the first morning, but Sutton decided to keep Woods and Mickelson together for the afternoon matches. Lefty already had warmed up for that possibility by practicing with Woods' brand of balls the previous day.
Woods and Mickelson were matched against Clarke and Westwood. The other alternate shot matches: Jimenez and Thomas Levet vs. Americans Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas; Montgomerie and Harrington vs. Love and Fred Funk; and Garcia and Donald vs. Cink and Kenny Perry.
Sutton knew his decision to go for one point with his two best players could backfire. Five years ago at Brookline, Europe got a huge lift when Clarke and Westwood beat Woods and David Duval, the top two Americans at that time.
'There's a risk every day in life,' Sutton countered. 'You cross the street and it's a risk. Someone may run over you.'
Clearly, this pairing wasn't about camaraderie.
Woods and Mickelson have never been the best of friends. On the first tee, their sometimes-icy relationship was evident as Mickelson stood on one side, Woods on the other. The Europeans, meanwhile, were chatting away, and Monty even yucked it up with a fan wearing an Irish flag and hat.
The Europeans had fun the rest of the morning, too.
'It's a good start for us, but that's all it is,' Montgomerie said. 'There's still four round of golf to play today.'
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