Clarke makes perfect start

The United States today drew first blood in the Ryder Cup at the K Club as Darren Clarke got off to a flying start after a rapturous welcome.

The United States today drew first blood in the Ryder Cup at the K Club as Darren Clarke got off to a flying start after a rapturous welcome.

In the opening match, playing in the opening fourballs with Jim Furyk against Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, Tiger Woods dragged his opening drive into the lake to the left of the fairway, some 40 yards off the ideal line.

After a penalty drop Woods played a good approach to 15 feet, but Europe looked to have the upper hand when Harrington and Montgomerie both set up good birdie chances.

However, after the European pair had missed from 20 and 10 feet respectively and Furyk converted his attempt from seven feet to put the Americans one up.

The wet conditions meant preferred lies had reluctantly been introduced for the opening fourballs.

Andy McFee, chief referee for the Ryder Cup, said: “We will have four very experienced referees, led by the European Tour’s John Paramor, with the four matches to take a close look at the amount of mud of the balls and the amount of disturbance to the flight of the ball.

“The decision as to whether we continue with preferred lies in the following sessions, beginning with today’s afternoon foursomes, will then be based on fact rather than speculation.”

Play began on time at 8am despite gale-force winds again battering the K Club overnight.

Winds gusting up to 67mph were recorded as a storm blew through the area on Thursday evening, although only a “general tidy up operation” was deemed necessary this morning.

One woman was injured when a tree branch fell on her and she was taken to hospital for treatment.

Non-essential staff, including members of the international media, were evacuated from the site, which was also temporarily without electricity after damage to power lines.

A statement from Ryder Cup officials read: “The gates at the K Club opened at 6am. A review conducted by Ryder Cup Europe LLP and An Garda Síochana deemed that the prevailing conditions would allow play to start on time at 8am.

“Both bus terminals are operational. There were on-going assessments throughout the night by artificial lighting. A general tidy-up operation began at first light.

“The weather forecast is fair. All on-site structures are secure despite gusts of wind up to 67mph when the storm blew through.”

Rookie JJ Henry, playing alongside wild card Stewart Cink, put the Americans ahead in the second match with a birdie from seven feet on the second.

Sweden’s Robert Karlsson, partnering World Match Play winner Paul Casey, missed from six feet to halve the hole but there was better news for Europe in match three.

Sergio Garcia, forming a new all-Spanish pairing with Jose Maria Olazabal, holed from 22ft for birdie to take the opening hole against David Toms and Brett Wetterich.

The biggest cheer of the day was reserved for Darren Clarke as he strode onto the first tee, the Ulsterman playing less than six weeks after the death of his wife Heather.

Partnering good friend Lee Westwood against Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, Clarke looked relaxed and confident and smashed a brilliant drive over 300 yards down the first.

Clarke's approach shot matched his drive and he duly holed from 10 feet for birdie to put the European pair one up.

Olazabal’s long birdie on the second was matched by Toms to keep the Spanish pair one up, while Casey and Karlsson had won two holes in a row to also move ahead.

Karlsson holed from eight feet to win the third and Casey then fired a stunning eagle on the par-five fifth, holing from just five feet after a stunning three-wood approach.

That meant Europe were now up in three of the four matches and Harrington’s par was enough to win the fifth and level the top game, an out-of-sorts Woods missing from four feet.

Montgomerie's par was good enough to put Europe one ahead on the seventh despite hitting a tree with his drive, the other three players making a complete hash of the 430-yard par four.

Woods finally came to life with a birdie from four feet to win the next, but then putted off the green on the ninth and was again grateful that Furyk birdied from 25 feet to put the Americans one up.

The group behind also struggled on the seventh, Casey and Cink finding water with their approach shots and Karlsson’s second ended up on the camera tower behind the green.

But after pitching to 15 feet the giant Swede holed for a par which was good enough to put Europe two up.

Garcia and Olazabal remained one up after Toms matched Garcia’s birdie on the sixth and the bottom match remained all square after six.

Woods had been three over par for the front nine but birdied the 11th and 12th to put the American duo three ahead with just six to play. The European pair had managed just one birdie between them so far, and that from three feet on the par-five fourth.

There was better news in the second match with Karlsson’s approach on the ninth close enough to be conceded for a birdie to go three up, while Olazabal also birdied in the match behind to move two ahead.

The Spanish pair were unlucky not to be further ahead having gone to the turn in 30, five under par, while the bottom match was all square after nine.

Montgomerie holed from long range to reduce the deficit and Harrington set up a grandstand finish with a birdie on the par-five 16th thanks to a brave approach over the water.

That match was made even more crucial by what has happening behind, Henry and Cink continuing their comeback from three down with birdies at the 14th and 15th to move one ahead.

Garcia and Olazabal were two up with four to play while the final match remained all square after 14.

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