Ryder Cup: Bruising first day for Europe

PAUL Lawrie suffered a “disappointing” defeat on his return to the Ryder Cup after a 13-year gap and also witnessed one of the most bizzare moments in the event’s history – involving opponent Bubba Watson – on the opening day of the 39th match at Medinah.

It ended with Europe, winners of six out of the last eight encounters, trailing 5-3 after losing the afternoon fourballs 3-1 on the outskirts of Chicago.

Left out of the drawn morning foursomes, which Europe had led in all four matches at one point, Lawrie was partnered with Swede Peter Hanson in the top match in the second session but lost 5 and 4 to an inspired Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson.

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Watson, the Masters champion, and US Open title holder Simpson won six of the first eight holes, turned in 29 and had a better-ball score of ten-under for 14 holes as they put the first afternoon point on the board for the Americans.

Lawrie, who hit the opening shot of the 1999 match at Brookline on his only other appearance in the event, had less pressure on his shoulders on this occasion as he hit second in the group after Hanson, playing in his second successive Ryder Cup.

Both European players safely found the fairway, as did Simpson, before Watson, one of the game’s most popular players after his emotional victory at

Augusta National earlier in the year, was announced to the crowd by the official starter.

That immediately turned up the noise volume around the tee and it became even louder as Watson raised his arms in the air in a bid to really pump up the home fans. Simpson’s caddie, Paul Tesori, did likewise and amidst a crescendo of noise Watson walked forward and casually hit his drive.

It was an occasion when there was definitely no need for any ‘Quiet Please’ signs being waved by marshalls and it certainly seemed to help settle Watson, though it was his partner who sparked their fireworks by hitting his approach to around five feet for a birdie at the first.

Lawrie, who was being watched from inside the ropes by Shona Robison, the Scottish Minister for Public Health and Sport, as well as his close friend and long-time golfing partner Martin Gilbert, three-putted the short second as the Europeans lost that to a par.

The rot was stopped by a half in birdie-3s at the third, but Simpson, a rookie, and Watson, who made his debut in the event in Wales two years ago, were relentless as they recorded birdie after birdie to soon leave their opponents fighting a lost cause.

Lawrie made back-to-back birdies at the 11th and 12th, but the European pair simply ran into a couple of immovable forces on the day.

“It wasn’t the way I wanted to return to the Ryder Cup, but there wasn’t a lot we could do,” said the 43-year-old Aberdonian. “They both played extremely well and holed a huge amount of putts. Ten birdies, even in fourballs, is pretty incredible stuff.

“We didn’t play that badly ourselves, but we didn’t play all that well either. Three-putting the second was the only one we really gave them and we had a few chances, but they played extremely well. We were under par, so to lose 5 and 4 doing that is pretty tough to take. It’s obviously very disappointing. We managed to get a few birdies towards the end, but it was damage limitation by then. At least it gives me something to build on going into tomorrow.”

Hanson, who played on the winning team in Wales two years ago, added: “We made it a little too easy for them. Paul made a good comeback with a couple of birdies but we were unable to put any pressure on them.”

Rookie Keegan Bradley was the shining light for the Americans on the opening day. He won twice along with Phil Mickelson, who, with nine Ryder Cup appearances under his belt, was the perfect foil for his excitable younger compatriot.

Bradley, the 2011 USPGA champion, holed most of the pairing’s key putts, but he paid tribute to Mickelson after the left-hander hit a 7-iron close to the cup at the 17th to clinch their afternoon win over Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. “That showed why Phil Mickelson is a Hall of Famer,” said Bradley. Asked if he had energy left at the end of a day when he’d put so much into trying to get the Americans off to a good start in the match, he added: “Oh baby, I wish I could go another 36 holes.”

While it was a day to cherish for Bradley, an out-of-sorts Tiger Woods lost both his matches. Nicolas Colsaerts, the first Belgian to play in the event, did the damage in the afternoon with a breathtaking eight birdies and an eagle on his debut.