GRAEME McDOWELL teamed up with Rory McIlroy yesterday to help fellow Irishman Paul McGinley’s Great Britain and Ireland side to a 3-2 lead over Continental Europe after the opening fourballs.
The pair beat Dane Soren Kjeldsen and big-hitting Spaniard Alvaro Quiros 4&3 in the top game of the Vivendi Trophy in Paris however afterwards European captain Thomas Bjorn blamed the morning’s opening ceremony for his team’s faltering start.
McGinley, for his part, was delighted by the start made to the four-day match and admitted the big surprise was the record-equalling six and five win by debutants Chris Wood and Anthony Wall over Swedish stars Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson.
He also took time to praise his top pair: “They were leading off my charge to the trophy – that’s the role I wanted them to play and the impression I wanted to give.
“They’re potential Ryder Cup partners next year and maybe for a long time. They were brilliant.”
Bjorn was less contented with his day.
“There’s no excuses for not being ready, but being a Scandinavian myself a few of them I know are very set in their routines,” he said.
“I could see a lot of things going on that maybe unsettled them a little bit and they maybe weren’t quite ready when they stood on the first tee.
“I might not have gone over it well enough. It’s a long time to be at the course at a quarter to nine if you’re going to tee off after midday.
“They’re not used to it and are just sitting around and end up eating breakfast three times. It’s not quite what you want to do, but they should all have the experience.”
Opposite number McGinley stated: “I told my players not to have breakfast before they left the hotel and leave as late as possible.
“There are things that upset your routines, but it’s part and parcel of being a team and you’ve got to get used to them.”
Wood and Wall marked their debuts in record-equalling fashion.
Their 6&5 thrashing of Ryder Cup pair Stenson and Karlsson matched the biggest margin of victory in any session of the Vivendi Trophy since it started in 2000.
In Karlsson’s defence, of course, this was his first competitive action since May because of a blister behind his left retina.
Britain and Ireland’s other point came from Oliver Wilson and Simon Dyson.
With Dyson fit again after suffering food poisoning in the build-up, they defeated Soren Hansen and Peter Hanson 3&2 – an exact repeat of the result when they clashed in foursomes in Ireland two years ago.
However, Continental Europe kept the gap down to only one point thanks to Anders Hansen and Francesco Molinari and then Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.
Hansen, who had a superb seven birdies in the first 12 holes, and Molinari beat Robert Rock and Steve Webster 4&3.
Fernandez-Castano and Jimenez – the only player to be an ever-present since the series started in 2000 – came from two down to beat Ross Fisher and Nick Dougherty 2&1.
Bjorn’s men were made favourites given that they had lost only Sergio Garcia and the injured Martin Kaymer from their strongest possible line-up.
Britain and Ireland were without six players in all – Paul Casey, Pádraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Justin Rose – but they have won the last four matches.
McDowell and McIlroy, the only non-Englishmen in their side, were ahead from the moment the former sank a 25-footer on the first. They were lucky not to go back on terms at the third, though, as McIlroy’s chip was going a long way past until it hit Kjeldsen’s ball a few feet past the flag.
“I was amazed he didn’t mark it,” said the 20-year-old, and his partner agreed it was a key point. By the eighth they were three up and McIlroy’s birdie on the 11th stretched the gap to four.
“I hope it’s the start of a long partnership,” he added.
“As long as we stay fit there’s no reason why we can’t have a partnership for the next 10 years.”
Both would love to be together again at next October’s Ryder Cup, with McDowell stating: “Obviously we’re great friends, but this is a chance to show we can gel on the course.
“There’s nothing I would like better than to play with him in the Ryder Cup.”
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