Harrington and Monty lick frosty US pairing

Charlie Mulqueen walked all 17 holes of yesterday's Ryder Cup fourball between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Pádraig Harrington and Colin Montgomerie.

US captain Hal Sutton had put his two superstars together to ensure a winning start. But what's that line about the best laid plans of mice and men...

IT was cold and autumnal in suburban Detroit at 8am yesterday. Very European and you wonder if it was a happy omen for Bernhard Langer's men. The usual whooping and hollering was going on and you didn't feel any goose bumps on the back of the neck or a tightening in the stomach.

It was as if, deep down, the Yanks feared the worst. Colin Montgomerie has spoken many times of how "you could cut the tension" as he headed for the tee for the first of the decision singles at The Belfry two years ago.

It was a far cry from that - which isn't to say the excitement and expectation weren't quite enormous.

Sutton's plan backfired almost as the quartet walked down the first fairway. Monty and Pádraig chatted and even joked. Phil and Tiger were there physically but mentally were poles apart. Their awful body language told its own meaningful story. Things would only get worse for the home pair.

Montgomerie birdied the 1st, Harrington the 198 yards 3rd with a glorious iron to less than a yard. They also birdied 2 and 4 but got no more than a half.

"That start was vital for us," said the Scot. "Pádraig and I had a meeting and decided if we could win this morning, it was almost psychologically worth more than a point to Europe, a point and a bit if you like to beat the best two American players.

"We got that flying start and didn't allow them back into it."

Actually, not entirely the case. They lost the 5th to a par, which shouldn't happen at this level, and after going two ahead again at the 6th, thanks to Monty's 30 footer for birdie, were back to one after a Mickelson birdie at 7. But the Euros remained unflustered and were duly back in front again when Harrington sank a remarkable 25-footer across a rollercoaster of a green. There were no high fives, no knuckle touching by the Euros, just a pleased nod from one to the other.

Phil and Tiger? You doubted they were on the same wavelength - or wanted to be!

Still, they were handed the short 9th when again neither Euro could make par and with only one hole in it turning for home, it should have been anyone's match.

Dr Michael Smurfit joined us and as we knelt at the 11th green he whispered: "It will be our big day in two years time. Time flies, you know."

Harrington regained the European momentum as he punched a delightful little sand wedge to four feet for a winning birdie at the 560 yards 12th. You looked and you listened but there was hardly a sound to be heard.

As Harrington noted: "It was quiet because we gave them nothing to cheer about. We were having a great time out there and it is easy when you have a partner like Colin. He showed his class. I can afford to miss a few holes and know he will be there."

This is no mutual admiration society. Harrington and Montgomerie don't settle for anything less than the best and it showed. When Pádraig's chip for birdie lipped out at the 13th, his partner called "great shot that".

The American mood darkened further when Harrington's approach to the 14th spun back to a yard. Three up and it was good night even if "Lefty" did show some little bit of spunk with a fine birdie on 16. The inevitable ensued at the short 17th and Europe had struck an enormous blow.

"If you birdie the first four holes as we did, it is going to be enjoyable but I do think it was as enjoyable a first morning as you can have," smiled Harrington.

"We expected this match, we were asked to go out in it. The galleries were great, everybody was great and it was a super day. As expected, there were loud cheers for the US and respectful applause for us. I have to say that Colin and I were in a good frame of mind going out. We wanted to put two solid guys in against them, two of our big hitters let's say, and it worked.

"It felt great on the first tee. That was my third Ryder start and I went from, not being able to see the ball at Brookline to, not bad at The Belfry to, pretty good today. The only worry I had was putting the ball on the tee, everything else was pretty solid.

"We knew this was the match we would play and we knew what was expected of us. I also think the build-up we have had going into the match helped us. We definitely prepared properly and I think it showed with that perfect start."

Nobody can underestimate the personal woes of Montgomerie. It's almost as if he sees this week as a panacea for his troubles and his attitude yesterday was magnificent. I couldn't help note the way he chatted and confided in Harrington's caddy Ronan Flood time and again as if to ensure they were all in this together.

"I was proud of myself to get into the team and to be honest, I had a little lump in my throat on the first tee this morning," he related. "I hit my drive in the bunker, put a seven iron on the green and holed it. What a relief. It was great to have Pádraig as my partner. He is fabulous, really fabulous. A few people might not have put us together in the past but I thought we dovetailed beautifully. We enjoy each other's company. As for Phil and Tiger, they were more nervous because there was more pressure on them."

Opening day results (USA names first):


Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods lost to Colin Montgomerie and Pádraig Harrington 2 and 1

Davis Love and Chad Campbell lost to Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez 5 and 4

Chris Riley and Stewart Cink halved with Paul McGinley and Luke Donald

David Toms and Jim Furyk lost to Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood 5 and 3

Fourballs result: United States 1/2 Europe 3 1/2


Chris DiMarco and Jay Haas bt Jimenez and Levet 3 and 2

Love and Funk lost to Montgomerie and Harrington 4 and 2

Mickelson and Woods lost to Clarke and Westwood 1 hole

Perry and Cink lost to Garcia and Donald 2 and 1

Foursomes result: United States 1 Europe 3

Match position: United States 1 1/2 Europe 6 1/2

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