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U.S. trails after wild opening day

Tiger Woods wins the first point, but Europe takes a 5-3 lead after 11 hours of play.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 23, 2006


STRAFFAN, Ireland - The tears of Darren Clarke gave way to exhaustive relief for Colin Montgomerie. American red shifted to European blue on the scoreboard. A day that began in brilliant sunshine ended in gray skies and showers.

The Ryder Cup was 11 hours of relentless action Friday, with wild swings in control and emotion and the tightest opening matches in the 79-year history of the event.

All for a familiar result:

Europe was in the lead again.

Clarke delivered the inspiration, Sergio Garcia was unstoppable as ever, and the Europeans showed equal parts of depth and determination as they built a 5-3 lead, getting points from all 12 players on a team they claim is their best ever.

"I played all my players," captain Ian Woosnam said. "They played exceptionally well, every single one of them. I would have been happy with just one point, but being two ahead is great."

Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk won the first point of this Ryder Cup, but it was the only American victory all day.

The United States did manage half-points in four other matches, however, and while captain Tom Lehman got into a cart with his face awash in frustration, it could have been worse.

Two years ago at Oakland Hills, the Americans were down by five points at this stage. There was no reason to panic yet.

Even so, it looked for the longest time as though the United States would be tied at worst.

"It's a pretty fine line between no points, a half-point and one point," Lehman said. "We didn't get much going our way."

Seven of the eight matches went all 18 holes, including all four alternate-shot games in the afternoon - the first time since 1969 that an entire session went the distance. No team ever had more than a 3-up lead.

The final blow came from Montgomerie, who made a 6-foot birdie putt to earn Europe another halve, although it looked as though he had won a major.

Time and again, Europe came through at the end.

Garcia and Luke Donald, who couldn't handle Woods in the final group of the last two majors, teamed up to take him and Furyk down on the last two holes of alternate shot. Garcia hit a wedge out of the rough to 2 feet on the 17th in the afternoon foursomes, then Furyk hit his second shot into the par-5 18th in the water to lose the hole.

"No excuses there," Furyk said. "I made a bad swing."

Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, unbeaten in the Presidents Cup last year, failed to win a match. Clarke's birdie on the 18th secured a 1-up victory for him and Lee Westwood in the morning, and the Americans lost a 1-up lead on the last hole of alternate shot in the afternoon.

Lehman didn't make many changes. He settled on his pairings when the Americans arrived in Ireland at the start of the week, and raised questions over who played - and didn't play - on Friday.

J.J. Henry, one of four rookies on the U.S. team, teamed with Stewart Cink in the morning better-ball session and rallied the Americans from a 3-down deficit to earn a half against Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson, a match so well-played that both teams shot 65. As well as Henry played, however, Lehman decided to sit him out in the afternoon.

Scott Verplank and Vaughn Taylor didn't play at all. The surprise was Verplank, especially since Lehman made him a captain's pick because of his accuracy and putting, which are particularly important in alternate shot.

"I like the teams we put out today," Lehman said, declining to answer the question directly. He said both Verplank and Taylor would play today.

Europe was euphoric, especially Clarke.

He wasn't even sure he would play in the Ryder Cup after his wife, Heather, died Aug. 13 of breast cancer. Woosnam made him a captain's pick and then sent him out with Westwood in the last match of the morning.

The ovation shook the bleachers surrounding the first tee at the K Club as tears filled Clarke's eyes when he walked into the arena, sharing hugs with Mickelson and DiMarco.

"It will stay with me forever," Clarke said. "Hugs from Phil and Chris, my partner, the reception I got. I'll never forget that."

He started and ended his round with birdies, strode off the 18th to more thunderclaps of cheers, then lit up a cigar and watched his teammates take charge of the matches, as the Europeans always seem to do.

Woods started and ended his day with a ball in the water.

His opening tee shot might have been his worst of the year, a snap-hook into a creek that shouldn't come into play. It didn't matter because he had Furyk at his side, a partnership that showed its value in a 1-up victory over Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.

But it wasn't enough against Garcia and Donald, a formidable pair in foursomes. They improved to 3-0 in alternate shot and never trailed in their afternoon match against Woods and Furyk.

With the match all square, Garcia stuffed his wedge into 2 feet on the par-5 16th, and Woods hit wedge into 15 feet. Furyk made birdie to halve the hole, but they weren't as lucky on the next hole. Garcia again hit his approach from the first cut into 3 feet, and Woods hit a good shot to 15 feet below the cup. Furyk missed, and they fell behind.

Their hopes ended when Furyk went into the water after Woods' drive on the 18th.

TODAY'S FOUR-BALL PAIRINGS:

3 a.m. (EST): Stewart Cink and J.J. Henry, United States, vs. Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson, Europe.

3:15 a.m.: Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, United States, vs. Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe.

3:30 a.m.: Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, United States, vs. Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, Europe.

3:45 a.m.: Scott Verplank and Zach Johnson, United States, vs. Henrik Stenson and Padraig Harrington, Europe.

ON TV

8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, Ch. 8.

ON THE WEB

rydercup.com, pgatour.com, europeantour.com