An emotional Darren Clarke justified his selection as a wild card as Europe battled to a narrow lead after the opening session of the Ryder Cup at the K Club today.
Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington fell to a one-hole defeat to Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk in the first fourballs clash, but moments later Sergio Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal levelled the scores against David Toms and Brett Wetterich.
Paul Casey and Robert Karlsson had to settle for a half with Stewart Cink and JJ Henry after being three up with eight to play, while Clarke and Lee Westwood held their nerve in a tight battle to beat world number two Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
Playing less than six weeks after the death of his wife Heather, Clarke received a huge ovation when he walked onto the first tee, and was also hugged by Mickelson and DiMarco.
Asked to comment about that, Clarke said: “I’d better not or I will start welling up. That will stay with me forever.
“The first tee shot was always going to be tough but after that you get back into it. It’s my job and that’s what I tried to do and we came good in the end.”
Looking remarkably composed, the 38-year-old smashed a brilliant drive over 300 yards down the first and then holed from 10 feet for birdie.
Mickelson birdied the fourth to draw level and the match remained tight until Clarke birdied the 16th to edge one clear and another birdie on the last sealed an important win.
Earlier in the day, Woods had secured his first win on the opening day since his debut at Valderrama in 1997, and also inflicted only Montgomerie’s third defeat in his last 19 matches.
Play got underway on schedule at 8am despite more gale-force winds battering the K Club overnight, and Woods had a face like thunder when he dragged his opening drive into the lake to the left of the fairway, some 40 yards off line.
Furyk came to the rescue with a birdie to win the hole and his birdie at the fourth was matched by Montgomerie after Woods could only make a par five. The world number one then missed from four feet for par on the next to allow Europe to level the match.
The group were warned for slow play on the fifth before 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.
An approximate three over par for the front nine, Woods suddenly birdied the 11th and 12th to put the American pair three ahead with just six to play, but then found more water with a short-iron approach to the 13th.
Montgomerie reduced the deficit with a birdie on the 14th and Harrington set up a grandstand finish with a birdie on the par-five 16th thanks to a brave approach over the water.
Chances to draw level went begging on the 17th and Montgomerie was unable to conjure the eagle required to win the 18th, Furyk fittingly securing a closing birdie.
“We just did not hole enough putts,” admitted Montgomerie.
“We have this golden rule of always having two birdie opportunities and did that on most holes but didn’t hole any of them.”
Garcia and Olazabal raced to the turn in just 30 shots against Toms and another rookie, Wetterich, but that was only good enough for a two-hole lead as Toms made three birdies himself.
Wetterich finally contributed with a birdie on the 10th to halve the deficit but then found the water on the 13th and Garcia’s birdie on the 15th put the home pair three up.
Yet another Garcia birdie sealed a 3and2 win and Olazabal, who previously formed an equally deadly partnership with Seve Ballesteros, said: “There was one secret today and that was Sergio.
“He was just awesome. He has all the tools and the way he played today, the game of golf looks easy.”
In the second match out, Casey’s stunning eagle on the fourth and two birdies from Karlsson helped the European pair into a three-hole lead, but the Americans hit back with five birdies in six holes from the 10th to edge one ahead.
Karlsson found the water on the 16th but Casey responded with a long-range birdie to level the match.