Europe on the charge

The Ryder Cup scoreboard shows America 6-4 ahead overnight, but Europe were the ones with the clear momentum when play ended at Celtic Manor tonight.

The Ryder Cup scoreboard shows America 6-4 ahead overnight, but Europe were the ones with the clear momentum when play ended at Celtic Manor tonight.

Incredibly, Colin Montgomerie’s side lead in all six games of the third session - two foursomes and four fourballs because of the need to make up time lost due to Friday’s rain.

It was still the early stages in some of them, but the first point of the fightback will surely come in the morning from Lee Westwood and Luke Donald.

Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker may have won their opening two games, making it six out of six when you add in last year’s Presidents Cup, but they trailed by four after going to the turn in a sorry 40.

Having won the long ninth with a birdie, the American stars will cling to the hope that they can still get something out of it.

But if the home pair win it would be Donald’s sixth win out of six in Ryder Cup foursomes and, almost unbelievably, Westwood’s sixth in seven games against Woods at the event.

Behind them Padraig Harrington and Ross Fisher stood one up after eight against Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson, Harrington having earlier ended a horror run of 10 cup games without a win.

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are three up on Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan - a real confidence-booster for McIlroy after a day of real highs and lows – and Peter Hanson and Miguel Angel Jimenez will resume two ahead of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton.

Francesco Molinari chipped in just before the close to put himself and brother Edoardo two up on Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar, while Ian Poulter and Martin Kaymer have a two-hole advantage over Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler after four holes of the bottom game.

Montgomerie said: “None of these games are finished, but we are in a very, very strong position suddenly.

“It was not going well at lunchtime to be honest with you. It was a bit stale, but I asked for more passion and they showed it.”

By then the Scot had added Jose Maria Olazabal – his likely successor as captain – as a fifth vice-captain and if the cup is regained an experienced backroom team that also includes Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley, Sergio Garcia and Thomas Bjorn will will have played their part, as will the crowd.

But in the end it comes down to the players and if Montgomerie was to single anybody out it would probably be his most controversial wild card Harrington.

Under intense pressure after being preferred to Paul Casey and Justin Rose and then playing poorly in his opening game, Harrington finally tasted victory with Ross Fisher in the foursomes.

They beat Mickelson and Dustin Johnson 3&2 – Harrington’s first point since the 2004 singles in Detroit and a result which gave Mickelson the 16th defeat of his cup career, matching the American record of Ray Floyd.

Harrington praised Montgomerie for putting him with Fisher.

“He made a great decision,” he said. “He gave me the responsibility to look after Ross and it made me step up a bit.

“The atmosphere is electric. The supporters realise things are very tight - they all are, but this looks particularly tight.”

Europe’s other winners in the second session were Donald and Poulter, who beat Overton and Watson 2&1 after Donald’s magnificent four-iron to under three feet at the 17th.

“Fantastic,” Poulter said of a shot which gave Donald his fifth win out of five in Ryder Cup foursomes.

The same word could not be used for McIlroy and McDowell’s finish against Cink and Kuchar, however.

In a rematch of a fourball half, the Irish pair were one up with three to play. They bogeyed the 16th, McIlroy missed from under five feet at the next after Cink had holed from 25 and the 21-year-old then duffed his pitch to the par-five last into sand.

Westwood and Kaymer, Europe’s only winners in the first session, led Furyk and Fowler all the way from the second until the final green.

Furyk’s pitch over the lake to three feet there enabled him and his partner to get out of the game with a half – and therefore not dwell quite so long over a rules blunder on the fourth.

Last weekend’s £7m winner Furyk drove into mud and debutant Fowler was given a free drop, but he used a ball from his pocket rather than the one in play and incurred the loss of the hole.

The first pair to record two wins were Woods and Stricker. Woods is still miles away from his best form, but Stricker was a tower of strength as they beat Hanson and Jimenez 4&3.

The Molinaris, meanwhile, lost on the last to Zach Johnson and Mahan.

McIlroy did not have a happy time on the 18th. He had just rolled in a dramatic 30-foot putt to draw level with Kuchar and Cink.

But he and Cink both put two balls in the lake and it was left to McDowell and Kuchar to secure a half.

STATE OF PLAY (Session 3):

Foursomes

Luke Donald & Lee Westwood 4 up on Steve Stricker & Tiger Woods (after 9 holes)

Europe’s strongest two players in the opening two sessions got off to a flying start with birdies at the first and second and were soon four up after Woods found water off the tee on the sixth.

Another poor tee shot from Woods on the seventh saw the home pair go five up but the unbeaten American duo birdied the ninth to give themselves a glimmer of a chance.

Graeme Mcdowell & Rory Mcilroy 3 up on Zach Johnson & Hunter Mahan (7)

Montgomerie kept faith with the Northern Ireland duo despite their earlier foursomes defeat and saw them move ahead immediately when pars were good enough to win the first and sixth.

McDowell’s superb tee shot to within four feet set up a birdie two on the seventh to extend the lead further, although Johnson’s bunker shot before that hit the pin and stayed out.

Fourballs

Padraig Harrington & Ross Fisher 1 up on Jim Furyk & Dustin Johnson (after 8 holes)

Harrington and Fisher had played poorly in the fourballs but found their form in a foursomes win and were quickly back in red figures, making birdies at four of the first five holes.

That was only good enough to be two up, however, and Johnson’s birdie on the seventh reduced the deficit further before Furyk missed a good chance to level the match on the eighth.

Peter Hanson & Miguel Angel Jimenez 2 up on Bubba Watson & Jeff Overton (6)

Hanson and Jimenez birdied three of the first four holes but were only one up as Watson and Overton continued to play well in their third match together.

But Jimenez also birdied the sixth for good measure from six feet to go two ahead before play was suspended for the evening.

Edoardo Molinari & Francesco Molinari 1 up on Stewart Cink & Matt Kuchar (5)

The Italian brothers suffered a cruel loss in the foursomes but bounced back from going behind to Cink and Kuchar with three birdies in four holes from the second.

That included Francesco chipping in from over the green on the fifth but the in-form Cink matched him from close range.

Ian Poulter & Martin Kaymer 2 up on Phil Mickelson & Rickie Fowler (4)

Par was good enough for the European pair to win the opening hole and Poulter’s birdie on the second doubled the advantage against an out of sorts Mickelson and Fowler.

The next two holes were halved in par before play was suspended.

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