Ryder Cup: Stirring fightback allows Europe to focus on the positives

Europe's Sergio Garcia celebrates with playing partner Rory McIlroy on day one at Gleneagles.
Europe's Sergio Garcia celebrates with playing partner Rory McIlroy on day one at Gleneagles.
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Not even the back-biting of a former captain could take the gloss off a rousing fightback yesterday afternoon that gave Europe the advantage in their bid for an eighth Ryder Cup win in 10 contests.

Paul McGinley’s side put a stuttering opening fourballs session behind them to claim three wins and a half point from yesterday’s foursomes to build a 5-3 lead going into the weekend.

Their comeback was epitomised by the lead pair of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, who overcame their morning defeat to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley to win the last two holes in dramatic circumstances to snatch a half point against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker.

But the celebrations had barely died down when news came through that Nick Faldo – capped 11 times as a player and the only European captain to suffer defeat this century – had criticised the Spaniard’s performance in that loss six years ago as “useless”.

While Faldo – speaking on American television – praised the 34-year-old’s overall contribution to the biennial contest he also claimed the player had a “bad attitude” as he scored one point from four matches.

Garcia, whose brilliant five-wood approach to the 18th green in the lengthening shadows at Gleneagles yesterday afternoon helped him and McIlroy salvage a half against Walker and Fowler, was reluctant to become embroiled in a row.

“Are you sure you didn’t misquote him....? That’s unfortunate,” he said. “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.”

Some of the senior players alongside Garcia in the press conference looked less than impressed that the upbeat mood of how Europe finished the day – having trailed by 2.5 to 1.5 points – had been brought down a notch by the issue.

Lee Westwood, who with rookie Jamie Donaldson beat Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar by two holes, said sarcastically: “Okay. We’ll take the euphoria we all have from today and just crush it...”

But Garcia’s team-mates were not prepared to leave him un-defended and Graeme McDowell, in particular, felt it necessary to make a point about Faldo’s contribution to that Ryder Cup.

The then captain rested both Garcia and Westwood on the Saturday after they had halved both their matches on the Friday.

“I’ll make a comment on that,” said McDowell.

“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.”

McIlroy, who asked to play with Garcia at Gleneagles and struggled through 36 holes with him on the opening day, put his arm around Garcia, and said: “You’re not useless.”

When talk returned to the opening day’s play, McGinley was understandably pleased with the way his team responded after a nervous opening.

“It was a terrific, a great response,” McGinley said. “As we have all seen in Ryder Cups over the years, momentum can be a huge and key factor. It looked like at one stage we were going to win 3-1 in the morning and ended up losing 1.5 to 2.5.

“The way the Americans played the last few holes was very strong and they certainly had their tails up going into the afternoon sessions. That often can have a ripple effect and a domino effect so for our guys to react the way they did, for all four matches to be up after six holes, was a terrific response.

“It shows a huge amount of character that we have on the team, huge amount of talent that we can come out with such strong pairings in the afternoon and a great response and resilience from the team.”

McGinley’s opposite number Tom Watson conceded his team were outplayed on the opening day, but defended his decisions on pairings.

““It started off looking pretty good and then we didn’t perform in the afternoon and it’s very disappointing,” said Watson, who defended his decision to put out what he thought was his reliable pairing for a second successive session. “Phil and Keegan struggled in the afternoon. They missed a lot of putts and kind of blew themselves out of it. They have done well in alternate-shot, and I had to give them a go.”

Ryder Cup: Pages 8-9.