Europe marching on

Sergio Garcia smiled, Luke Donald punched the air and Tom Lehman just closed his eyes and shook his head.

Sergio Garcia smiled, Luke Donald punched the air and Tom Lehman just closed his eyes and shook his head.

America’s Ryder Cup misery had just taken another turn for the worse and Europe were moving in on another victory. Perhaps even another rout.

Captain Lehman’s big guns were being silenced again at the K Club – and when Garcia and Donald beat Phil Mickelson and David Toms it made it four points out of four for the inspired Spaniard and only half a point for the world number two.

The two and one success put Ian Woosnam’s side 8 1/2-4 1/2 clear with three foursomes still on the course.

And with Paul Casey and David Howell five up with six to go and Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood one-up with two to play the United States were not so much Stars and Stripes as Doom and Gloom.

The only bright spot was that Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk were two-up on Dubliners Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley. But that was back on the 11th.

Improving the overnight two-point lead to three in the morning fourballs would have been great for Ian Woosnam’s side whoever it was they beat.

But the fact that Mickelson and Chris DiMarco, then Woods and Furyk were made to taste more defeat lifted morale in the home camp – and, of course, in the packed grandstands – even further.

It prompted talk about whether Woods and Mickelson, with one win between them out of a possible six in the match, would and should be omitted from the afternoon foursomes. But the only change Lehman made to his leading lights was to bring in David Toms as Mickelson’s partner.

They were all square with four to play, but then Toms drove into water on the 15th and at the next Donald holed from 18 feet for an unlikely birdie and the Americans, bunkered greenside in two, lost the hole when Toms missed from 10 feet.

Vaughn Taylor also drove into the lake on the 15th when all square with Montgomerie and Westwood and then the Americans three-putted the 16th for a half.

Earlier, a chip-in by Darren Clarke, a vital four-foot putt by Casey and another inspired performance by Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal had kept the crowd happy despite the torrential downpours.

The two teams came out in almost identical blue, but it was easy to tell Woosnam’s men. They were the ones producing most of the good stuff early on.

Europe, who lost only one game on the opening day and had at least half a point from all 12 players, kept the momentum with a superb start.

Th top three pairs established leads on the front nine and while Padraig Harrington and Henrik Stenson trailed in the bottom game it was only by one.

Going best of all were Garcia and Olazabal, who after a front-nine 30 against Toms and Brett Wetterich went out in 31 against Mickelson and DiMarco.

With Olazabal making an 18-footer on the eighth and a 15-footer at the 10th and Garcia holing from 15 feet in between they charged four clear. Mickelson did birdie the short 14th, but Garcia’s bunker shot to a foot on the long 16th took Europe 6-3 ahead.

That became 7-3 on the same hole and in even more dramatic fashion when Clarke sank his chip from over the green for what was his fourth win in six cup clashes against Woods – and his partner Westwood’s fifth out of six.

They sent the world number one and Furyk, unbeaten in last year’s Presidents Cup, to their second successive defeat and Woods’ struggles of day one had clearly not been rectified.

He was in water again on the 15th and did not contribute a single birdie in the match, while Clarke’s brilliant approaches to the fourth, fifth and 11th had earned a three-hole lead and Westwood made that four with an 18-footer at the 14th.

“I do feel for Tiger because he’s such a good friend to me,” commented Clarke. The American was among those who urged the Ulsterman to make himself available for the match after his wife Heather lost her cancer fight only six weeks ago.

“He is just struggling a bit with his timing. It happen to us all, but because his standards are so high it’s highlighted a bit more.”

As for his own two-for-two success with Westwood, Europe’s two wild cards, Clarke stated: “People said we were a gamble, but two of the people most sure it was not were us. We enjoy each other’s company so much.”

Olazabal has not faced Woods, but added: “He’s had an unbelievable stretch lately (five wins in a row) and it’s very hard to to keep playing at that level. Sooner or later you are going to have a little slump.”

Lehman stated: “I don’t know how you can sit down the best player in the world. That’s impossible.”

In the top game Robert Karlsson chipped in at the second and Casey birdied the fourth and eighth to help them two-up, but Cink and JJ Henry had come from three down for a half against them 24 hours earlier and that gave them hope.

Karlsson missed from under three feet at the long 10th and Henry’s magnificent eagle on the 16th and birdie on the 17th looked set to give the Americans a real boost.

That was still on the cards when Henry, surprisingly left out of both foursomes considering how well he had played on his debut, found the green in two at the par five last.

But Casey was on in two, Henry sent his 45-foot putt nine feet past and missed the return and Casey holed his four-foot birdie putt.

“That half is massive,” commented a delighted Woosnam. “It’s terrific for the side and to win the first three sessions has exceeded my expectations.”

When Harrington won the 16th to cut Scott Verplank and Johnson’s lead to one there was a chance the fourballs would get even better. But Johnson, having putted brilliantly earlier, chipped in at the 17th.

As a result Lehman’s side still had something to cling to. But the bottom line was that they had slipped further behind in the third session.

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