IT BEGAN with a startled deer, which bounded through the crowds and across the fairway in front of the first tee as the players were waiting to get things underway, but it concluded with a “dear, oh dear” as Martin Kaymer, the man who sank the putt to seal the European victory in Medinah two years ago, passed up not one but two chances to hole out for the win.
Paired with Thomas Bjorn, the Dane returning to the team for the first time since 2002, the day started well for the Europeans, when they birdied all but one of the first four holes to go three up on the American pairing of Rickie Fowler and the 35-year-old rookie Jimmy Walker.
Looking assured, the European duo, in the second match of the day, drew first blood when Kaymer’s approach shot spun back to sit just a few feet from the hole and was conceded. Jimmy Walker had a 15-foot putt to half the hole but his effort slipped by to give the hosts the edge.
Having gained the early advantage, they extended their lead at the second, with Bjorn getting his weight behind the push for a match point, sinking his six-foot birdie putt.
The Dane, who won the Ryder Cup as a player in Valderrama in 1997 and at The Belfry in 2002, went into this one with two wins from two in his previous fourball outings, but having missed out in recent years – serving instead as a vice captain – he said it was comforting to head back into the fray with his good friend, Kaymer.
On the short par-3 fourth, it was the German who again stepped up to the plate, another birdie setting back the American cause and giving Europe captain Paul McGinley reason to grin.
Three up with only four holes played, while many of the players seemed to be struggling with the conditions, both Kaymer and Bjorn appeared to be reading the slow greens better than most.
But there is a reason Fowler has finished in the top five of every one of the majors this year. A big game performer, he wasn’t at his best but he still managed to stem the tide, reducing the deficit with a birdie on the fifth hole and that gave Walker the time needed to settle into the competition. It was a worthwhile intervention as he warmed to the occasion and threw an eagle into the mix at the ninth to give the Americans the momentum. That left the Europeans just one up but they clung on to their slight advantage, halving the next three holes before coming back with a moment of brilliance from the Danish veteran. From just off the green, Bjorn sent a delightful chip into the hole for a birdie-three.
Two up with five to go, the opportunities for the Americans to salvage anything from the match dwindled with every par and every halved hole. They narrowed the gap thanks to Walker’s chip in at the 16th but with holes running out, Kaymer could have wrapped up a 2&1 victory on the 17th but he left his ten-footer just shy of the hole and the German’s putting again let him down on the final green as he tried to equal Walker’s birdie but pushed his effort left and it passed a couple of inches wide of the cup. It give the Americans that hole and, in a match the Europeans had led from first hole until last, it also gave them a half point.