Bloomfield Township, Mich.
Hal Sutton said he paired Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson for the first time in international team competition because history, fans and the two players themselves needed it. As it happened, maybe none of those entities needed it – unless we’re talking about European fans.
The U.S. captain greeted his so-called “Dream Team” at the first tee wearing a black cowboy hat. Black would be a fitting color for America’s top two players and the U.S. team all morning. Under gray skies, the star duo opened with two fores on No. 1 – fore left (Mickelson) and fore right (Woods).
A slimmed-down Colin Montgomerie made an 8-foot birdie putt on the first to give he and Padraig Harrington the lead for good in the leadoff four-ball match. Their 2-and-1 victory highlighted a 31⁄2-1⁄2 European rout in the opening session.
“This match psychologically was worth more than 1 point to the U.S. team,” said Montgomerie, who birdied four of the first six holes and ended with five birdies, same as Harrington.
Woods-Mickelson never got in sync, never got momentum, never seemed to have much chemistry, never talked much. They combined for five birdies – three by Woods, all on the first five holes. The two Americans went eight consecutive holes without a birdie, on Nos. 8-15. They would lose in afternoon foursomes, too, prompting Sutton to abandon the superstar pairing. “We have to move on,” he said.
Woods-Mickelson lost while being followed by a gallery of several thousand, including three famous cigar smokers hanging out together inside the ropes: Michael Jordan, Mario Lemieux and Ahmad Rashad. The loss dropped Woods’ record to 1-11 in his last dozen Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup four-ball matches.
The marquee group got no help from teammates. The Americans didn’t have a lead in any of the four matches. And 1 hour, 15 minutes elapsed before the U.S. even won a hole. As a result, Oakland Hills resembled something of an 18-hole funeral home.
Sutton, for one, understood the lack of applause. “They would’ve been cheering pars and bogeys if they had been cheering,” the captain said.
The bad start left the Americans wondering what it takes in four-ball. Starting in 1985 and through Friday morning at Oakland Hills, Europe led 471⁄2-281⁄2 in four-ball points.
Montgomerie and Harrington birdied the first four holes and six of the first eight in going 2 up on Woods-Mickelson at both intervals, prompting Sutton to say of his guys, “They ran into a buzz saw early. I saw a lot of frustration on their faces.”
Montgomerie, who has lost 36 pounds since the British Open, would end the day 13-2-3 in his last 18 Ryder matches. Clearly he showed no negative effects, especially early, from a divorce that was finalized the week before.
The only positive for the United States was a halve for Chris Riley and Stewart Cink against Luke Donald and Paul McGinley. Riley saved it with a 6-foot putt that matched Donald’s par at No. 18. Donald set it up with a brilliant 2-iron from 218 uphill yards.
Sutton had called his team of Davis Love III and Chad Campbell “strong as new rope.” But they held up more like frayed string, losing, 5 and 4, to Darren Clarke and Miguel Angel Jimenez. The losers didn’t make a birdie until Love converted at No. 12.