Bloomfield Township, Mich.
Over and over, players from the European side used one word to describe the Saturday four-ball victory by Paul Casey and David Howell: “Massive.”
Not only did their 1-up comeback against Jim Furyk and Chad Campbell stymie any pretense of an American rally from an uninspired effort on Day 1, it also turned out to be the pivotal match in Europe’s fourth victory in the last five Ryder Cup meetings.
“Many of you probably thought I’m sacrificing a point when I sent them out,” said European captain Bernhard Langer, referring to the fact that Casey and Howell were making their Ryder Cup debuts. “But I really deep down felt that they would be the surprise of the morning.”
The pairing was viewed widely as a point conceded to the United States. Instead, Casey and Howell notched the first Ryder Cup victory by a rookie pairing since Andy Bean and Lee Elder did it for the United States in Day 1 four-balls in 1979.
A point from the Euro rookies looked especially improbable when, under sunny skies and backed by a fired-up crowd at Oakland Hills, the American side appeared headed for a morning sweep of four-balls after Furyk won three holes in a row – all with birdies – to give Campbell and himself a 1-up lead after 13 holes.
Immediately ahead, Chris Riley was about to make his third birdie in three holes as Tiger Woods and he were cruising to a 4-and-3 victory over Darren Clarke and Ian Poulter. The lead match, Jay Haas-Chris DiMarco vs. Sergio Garcia-Lee Westwood, was all square with three holes to go. In Match 4, Davis Love III and Stewart Cink were about to go 3 up en route to a 3-and-2 victory over Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington.
But as Garcia noted a few hours later: “Believe it or not, there’s people that can play golf outside the States.”
In other words, Casey and Howell are no slouches. And Langer knew it when he sent them out.
Casey was 4-0 during Great Britain & Ireland’s victory in the 1999 Walker Cup Matches. He won the English Amateur in 2000. In three seasons at Arizona State, he won the Pac-10 championship three times and broke Phil Mickelson’s ASU record for scoring average. In four seasons on the PGA European Tour, he has won three times.
“Paul Casey is very, very strong,” Langer said. “When he’s on, he can go very, very low; very deep.”
Howell won the British Boys Championship in 1993 and contributed 21⁄2 points to Great Britain & Ireland’s 1995 Walker Cup victory. His only victory (Dubai Desert Classic) on the European Tour came in 1999, but he has been a check-cashing machine on that circuit over the last four seasons, making the cut in 86 of 102 tournaments.
“Howell is just a tremendously solid player,” Langer said. “He hits it down the middle most of the time, hits a lot of fairways and greens and makes a lot of birdies.”
His two biggest to date came at the 15th and 17th holes, sandwiched around Campbell’s only birdie of the four-ball match. Then it was left to Casey to par the pesky 18th, making a nerve-wracking 3-foot putt after Furyk and Campbell missed par putts from 20 and 5 feet, respectively.
“There was a lot of pressure on them,” Casey said of the Americans in general. “Obviously the U.S. were on a roll. There was a lot of red on that board. . . . But we didn’t give an inch.”