Jim Furyk, the US captain, dismissed claims that Tiger Woods had been struggling with his back as the 14-time major winner tasted defeat on his return to the Ryder Cup after a six-year absence.
Woods, one of Furyk’s picks for the match at Le Golf National close to Paris after returning to form with a vengeance this season, went down 3&1 along with Patrick Reed in the morning fourballs on day one to Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari.
He was then left out of the afternoon session, which the Americans, who are the holders but haven’t won on European soil in 25 years, lost 4-0 to trail 5-3.
“I have not heard that he’s had a back problem so I would say that that’s not true,” insisted Furyk when asked about Woods. “You’d have to ask Tiger, but I saw him out on the golf course [watching the foursomes] and he said he was all good.
“He was actually out practising tonight after the matches. I think any time Tiger draws so much attention. Any time Tiger doesn’t play, or maybe he stretches a little bit, everyone gets a little hypersensitive that he might have a back issue. But I am not aware of anything like that, and I didn’t get any information like that from Tiger or my vice-captains.”
In a move that would seem to back up that being the case, Woods has been included again in Furyk’s pairings for the fourballs, partnering Masters champion Reed once more, as the Americans bid to bounce back from a first whitewash in the foursomes.
“The European side played very good golf this afternoon,” acknowledged the US captain. “My hat’s off to them. Every one of their matches was even par to under par on a pretty difficult set-up in difficult conditions where the wind was blowing 20 miles an hour.
“I realise our guys aren’t happy about the way they played, but we have to look at the fact that they [Europe] did play really well. Don’t take anything away from the Europeans. They played a great session of golf from top to bottom had some great ball-strikers out there. But we have played for eight points so far out of 28. The event’s still pretty young.”
Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, was also quick to emphasise that same point, despite his team ending the first day in the ascendancy after sending the home fans into a frenzy as they produced a sensational display of golf in the afternoon.
“It was a bit of a roller coaster ride, to be honest,” said Bjorn of the day as a whole. “We were obviously disappointed with this morning [losing the fourballs 3-1]. I think a couple of guys came in and felt like they couldn’t get out of the matches what they wanted. But there was a good feeling about going out and trying to do something this afternoon, to be honest. So it was a great afternoon.”
Referring to the historic clean sweep by his players, he added: “That is something that is pretty special to all those players that are out on that golf course. We experienced it against us in Hazeltine the first morning, and that’s not a nice thing. But today we got those crowds behind us. We got them going. They started believing and then they went through the whole golf course and then it seemed like nothing could go wrong. That was kind of the feeling that you got through the day and through the afternoon and we holed putts, the Americans missed putts.
“But the players are also very well aware that you can enjoy this for about an hour and then you turn around to tomorrow and you start focusing on what’s ahead of us. We know it’s a marathon.
“We’re delighted with the way the day turned out, because it was a fairly tough morning. Yeah, we’re happy. We go home happy tonight, but we refocus and look forward to tomorrow.”
The overnight lead was a reward for Bjorn refusing to hit the panic button despite seeing his decision to throw four rookies into the opening session backfire as the Americans stormed into a 3-1 lead.
“I had a plan and I stuck to it for this first day – that’s how I saw the day. That’s how I saw the matches,” said Bjorn, who insisted he wasn’t tempted to sit out Rory McIlroy after he was the only player out of 16 not to make a birdie in the morning. “I never have any doubt in Rory McIlroy, because if I start doubting him, then I probably shouldn’t be doing this job,” said the European captain. “I believe in him, and it was great to see his response today. But that’s more on him. I was never in doubt that I wanted to have him on the golf course this afternoon.”