EUROPE’s spirited afternoon fightback, which earned them a 5-3 lead after the first day in the 40th Ryder Cup, was overshadowed by Nick Faldo labelling Sergio Garcia as “useless” and accusing the Spaniard of having a “bad attitude” under his captaincy at Valhalla in 2008.
On a glorious autumn day at Gleneagles, Paul McGinley’s side bounced back from losing the opening fourballs 2½-1½ to take the foursomes 3½-½ – a record return for Europe in the alternate shot format. The turnaround led Tom Watson, the American captain, to come under fire for leaving rookies Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth out of the second session after they’d earlier crushed Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher 5&4.
However, an even bigger talking point, certainly in the European camp, as the dust settled on the opening salvos in the first Ryder Cup to be held in Scotland since 1973 was criticism by Faldo aimed at Garcia.
Following Garcia’s morning fourballs defeat alongside Rory McIlroy, Faldo hit out at the Spaniard’s performance six years ago, when the Englishman was at the helm.
While Faldo, Europe’s record points scorer in the transatlantic tussle, praised the Spaniard’s overall contribution to the event on the Golf Channel, he described his performance in Louisville as “useless” and also claimed the player had a “bad attitude” on that occasion.
After hitting a brilliant 5-wood at the last to help him and Rory McIlroy salvage a half from being two down with two to play against Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler, Garcia was reluctant to become embroiled in a row, but was clearly unhappy with the comments.
“Are you sure you didn’t misquote him? That’s unfortunate,” said the 34-year-old when told of the remarks. “I guess he doesn’t feel European, that’s the only thing I can think of. You know, there’s a lot of things I could say about Nick Faldo but I’m not going to put myself down to his level.”
Sitting alongside Garcia in the media centre, some of his team-mates expressed their disgust at the remarks.
“We’ll take the euphoria we all have from today and just crush it,” said Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood, who also played on the team in Kentucky
Another member of the team in 2008, Graeme McDowell, responded by pointing out Faldo’s decision to rest both Garcia and Westwood on the Saturday in a match Europe lost – their only defeat in the last six clashes. “I’ll make a comment on that,” said McDowell, the 2010 US Open champion. “I’m a rookie playing the Ryder Cup in 2008 and you’ve got one of the best Ryder Cup pairings of all time being sat down on a Saturday morning of a Ryder Cup that we go on to lose. I’d say Sergio was fairly useless, yeah, because he wasn’t able to play.”
Adding his support for Garcia, having played with him in both matches on the first day in Perthshire, McIlroy put his arm around the seven-times Ryder Cupper and said: “You’re not useless.” Responding to that, Garcia said: “Thanks, Nick, I love you, too.”
There was true love in the air from McGinley towards his players after they turned around that morning deficit to end the first day in the driving seat. “It was a great response and momentum can be a huge and key factor,” said the Irishman. “It shows a huge amount of character that we have on the team, huge amount of talent that we can out with such strong pairings in the afternoon and a great resilience.”
He singled out Westwood for praise after he repaid his wildcard selection by sparking the fightback along with rookie Jamie Donaldson, the pair beating Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar by two holes in the first of the afternoon tussles.
“Lee was immense,” said the captain. “It was important not to over-react to the morning session, but to lead out with Lee in the afternoon was huge and Jamie was very appreciative of having him on his shoulder.”
While Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker spared the Americans from an embarrassing afternoon whitewash, they let a winning position slip from their grasp against Garcia and McIlroy. “It started off pretty good and then we didn’t perform in the afternoon – it’s very disappointing and the players themselves are disappointed,” said Watson. “But this is a marathon, it’s not a sprint.”
His decision to leave Spieth and Reed out of the foursomes after they’d shared six birdies in winning in the morning was one that dominated the 65-year-old’s Press conference. “I thought at the time it was the best decision not to play them,” he said. “There were a variety of reasons, but I won’t go into those. It was a decision that my vice-captains and I made.
“I’m trying to make the best decisions at that time that I possibly can with the best information I have. It’s a collective decision, but the final decision is with me. That decision not to play them was a hard one, but my gut feeling said that was the right decision to make.”
While Gallacher has been left out of today’s morning fourballs, Poulter has been reunited with McIlroy after they produced a vital win in the same format on the Saturday afternoon in Medinah two years ago.