Fast Start Stout Hearts for US

By Brian HewittSeptember 19, 2008, 4:00 pm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. ' The U.S. Ryder Cup team had been down so long it was beginning to look like up.
Which is why American captain Paul Azingers most important task at the moment is to keep his team from getting carried away with the euphoria of the 5 1/2 - 2 1/2 lead it forged Friday at noisy Valhalla Golf Club.
We love hearing the USA-USA, ' said Justin Leonard, who played better than anybody on either team on Day 1 and teamed with rookie Hunter Mahan in the morning and the afternoon to win two full points.
Its definitely lived up to the hype, said Anthony Kim, the hard-wired rookie who paired with Phil Mickelson in both sessions to halve their first and win their second.
Easy now, lads.
There are four more foursomes matches Saturday morning, followed by four more fourball matches Saturday afternoon, followed by 12 singles matches Sunday.
The Americans have found all kinds of ways to fail in five of the last six Ryder Cups and eight of the last 11.
Enter the wizened Mickelson, playing in his seventh Ryder Cup: We have, he said, a lot of work to do.
The good news for the U.S. team is the Europeans have a lot more to do. Neither one of the best players on the visiting team ' Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia ' won a match Friday.
Were down in points, said European captain Nick Faldo. But we are up in spirit.
Yet at least one highly-placed European source was critical of Faldos head-scratching decision to play long-hitters Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson in the foursomes and not the fourballs. The steady but shorter-hitting Miguel Angel Jimenez, on the other hand, got slotted into fourballs.
The Euros need a rally. Maybe not the kind we saw on Wall St. the last two days. But captain Faldos boys need to get on their motor scooters.
Im sure, Faldo promised, my team will rally tomorrow.
Meanwhile, all six American rookies are now blooded. And the raucous Kentucky crowd will show up Saturday loaded for more of what they got Friday.
We need some fresh legs for tomorrow, Faldo added.
(Aside: Speaking of Wall St. and volatility, are you watching any of this FedExCup bosses? You want volatility? Buy a stock.)
The Ryder Cup can be a roller coaster, too. And the leaders sometimes end up in a more difficult position than the pursuers. The team ahead must continue to freewheel and play with the edge that produced the lead, but it can not let overconfidence erode its sense of purpose.
All you need to know about the morning session, aside from the fact that the last time the Americans built a Ryder Cup lead in the Friday a.m. happened 17 years ago, was that the Americans trailed in all four matches and didnt lose a full point in any of them.
Lead-off hitters Kim and Mickelson found themselves three down with six holes to play and managed a nervous up-and-down on 18 to gain a halve against Harrington and Robert Karlsson.
Next up, Texans Leonard and Mahan bogeyed the first two holes and dropped 2-down quicker than you can say Casey and Stenson. They responded with three birdies and a conceded eagle on their next five holes and cruised to a 3-and-2 victory.
It was the first full point ever in a Ryder Cup match for veteran Leonard and it a smashing debut for Mahan, who probably hit more good shots than any player on either team early on.
We had a lot of fun out there, said Leonard.
So did Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell against Brits Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, especially after losing three of the first seven holes and falling three holes behind.
The most fun came on the 547-yard, par-5 18th where, with the match all square, Cink hit what he later said, might have been the best drive of my life. It left Campbell with a 186-yard 5-iron which he rifled to 12 feet.
Azinger would later put his arms around captains pick Campbell and tell him, Thats the reason youre here.
Poulter, perhaps feeling the pressure of being a controversial captains pick, missed a 5-footer for par and the Americans had stolen a full point with a conceded two-putt birdie.
A shame, Poulter said of the loss.
Poulter and Rose recovered in the afternoon with a 3-and-2 win over Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis for Europes only full point of the day.
It was also impossible to ignore, in the morning, that both of Azingers captains picks (that played) ' Mahan and Campbell ' won their matches. And both of Faldos picks ' Casey and Poulter ' lost.
The guys gave 100 percent out there, Faldo said at mid-day. But they won only 25 percent of the available points as the Americans raced off to a 3-1 lead.
It could have been even better for the Americans if the final pairing of Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk hadnt let the heavily-favored duo of Garcia and Westwood win the last two holes and escape with a halve.
Perrys tee ball wound up in the water on 18 much to the disappointment of a Kentucky crowd primed for Perry, one its two native sons on the team.
We havent been ahead a long time in the morning, Azinger said. We can only be happy about that.
At the end of the day, the Americans were even happier.
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Related Links:
  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • European Ryder Cup Team and Records
  • Full Coverage - 37th Ryder Cup
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