He rode Pegasus.
That wasn’t the only gift from Zeus he appeared to bring to Medinah Country Club Friday in what will be remembered as one of the great rookie debuts in Ryder Cup history. He brought a quiver full of lightning bolts with him.
Colsaerts, 29, was the lone bright spot for Europe in an otherwise dismal afternoon for the Euros.
With former No. 1 Lee Westwood disappearing so completely his face may show up on milk cartons in Chicago Saturday morning, Colsaerts proved too much for a rejuvenated Woods and his struggling partner, Steve Stricker.
Colsaerts made eight birdies and eagle in defeating Woods-Stricker 1 up.
Westwood didn’t contribute a single birdie.
“It felt wonderful to be able to produce and deliver on such a big stage with a lot of eyes on you and this unbelievable atmosphere,” Colsaerts.
The first player from Belgium to compete in a Ryder Cup, Colsaerts didn’t look like a Ryder Cup rookie in his first match. He looked like he was genetically designed with DNA from Bobby Locke and Ben Crenshaw, two of the greatest putters who ever lived.
“Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I’ve ever seen,” Woods said.
With his 10-under total, Colsaerts was a shot better than Woods and Stricker’s combined best-ball score.
Even Westwood joked about Colsaert’s other-wordly performance.
“I didn’t really have a lot to do,” Westwood cracked. “He brought me in to read a putt on the 15th, and I panicked. I wondered why he was even asking me, because everything he looked at went in. I mean, why ruin it now? So it was an amazing, amazing round of golf.”
The point was important for the struggling Euros, who lost the first three matches in the afternoon fourballs. The win left the Euros down 5-3. A clean American afternoon sweep would have left the Euros in a large hole at 6-2.
“Nicolas did something very special today,” European captain Jose Maria Olazabal said. “He had one of those days he will remember the rest of his life.”
While Woods struggled miserably in the morning, he found something in the afternoon. He threw a few lightning bolts of his own making seven birdies. Colsaerts just kept answering.
“I don't think there has ever been a better debut than that,” Westwood said. “I can't imagine anybody has ever made eight birdies and an eagle in their debut against somebody like Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, two of the more established partnerships. I can’t imagine anybody’s ever shown up and done something like that before.”
Colsaerts is a most unlikely Ryder Cup participant. Golf isn’t a popular sport in Belgium. It is estimated there are fewer than 60,000 players in the country, whose population is a little over 10 million. A little more than two years ago, Colsaerts wasn’t among the top 1,300 players in the world.
With his game slumping, Colsaerts lost his European Tour playing privileges and stepped down to the Challenge Tour in ’09. He fought his way back. He won the Volvo China Open for his first European Tour title last year and won the Volvo World Match Play Championship this year for his second title. With his terrific power, with the match-play prowess he displayed beating Europe’s best this year, Olazabal made him one of his two captain’s picks.
Colsaerts arrived this week saying Fred Couples was his idol growing up, and he looked Couples-cool under pressure.
“You never know how people are going to react in their first round at the Ryder Cup,” Westwood cracked. “I think he took to it quite nicely.”
Colsaerts made five putts of 20 feet or longer. He holed an 8-footer for his eagle at the 10th.
His most impressive putt, however, came at the 17th.
With the Euros' 1-up lead in jeopardy when Woods stuffed a 7-iron to 3 feet, Colsaerts drained a 20-foot birdie putt. Woods had to make his short birdie just to halve the hole. Colsaerts, an unusually even-tempered player, couldn’t hide his excitement after making the putt.
“You just can’t predict those things,” Colsaerts said. “I told Lee going to the 18th tee that it was my first uncontrolled reaction. Everything comes out of your veins and eyes, and it’s pretty special.”
So was his handshake with Woods afterward.
“On 18, when somebody like Tiger Woods looks at you and goes, `Great playing, man,’" Colsaerts said, "you understand you've done something pretty good."
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