The Ryder Cup is so compelling to watch, so full of hole-to-hole drama that instead of it being a biennial event it should be biannual. Even six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan calls it his favorite event.
It was a glorious day of golf Friday with the Team U.S. clinging to a 5-3 lead after eight matches, four alternate shot matches in the morning and four four-ball matches in the afternoon. The teams tied at 2-2 in the morning matches but the U.S. won three of four in the afternoon.
The competition continues Saturday with the same format and Sunday they will be 12 singles matches for the championship.
After the first day, here are my 10 reflections on the first day of the 39th Ryder Cup:
- Keegan Bradley (pictured) is a star. His game, his enthusiasm and those eyes, those intense, penetrating eyes. He is so focused. He teamed with Phil Mickelson in two matches. They beat Rory McIIroy and Graeme McDowell in the afternoon. It was like a father-son combo out there with some terrific chemistry.
- This format is so different from ‘golf,’ it’s like a different game they’re playing. Golf is a solitary game, really a selfish game. But with the alternate-shot and best-ball competitions the first two days, that builds teamwork. Then when it goes back to singles play Sunday, these guys don’t play for themselves or money anymore but carry the burden of team and country on their backs. No wonder it’s so compelling.
- What I like is how one long putt or a spectacular chip-in can completely change the match’s momentum. Those kind of swings are built into every match over the entire three days.
- Just like in so many other big tournaments, Lee Westwood can’t make a putt when he needs to do it. He kept missing at the worst times. On the other hand, Graeme McDowell was making much more than he was missing, and well as some superb tight pitches. He’s clutch (BTW, Phil Mickelson also rammed home a couple critical putts).
- Tiger Woods is not as clutch as he once was, although he did carry his team down the stretch in the afternoon. Still, he went 0-2 for the day. What I noticed about Tiger – since his return from injury and swing change – is that he tends to crumble slightly at critical times. That was never his MO. He performed miracles. We still see the brilliance – as his putt on 16 showed – but also seen these little collapses in majors on the weekend and saw it at times in his two matches, most reflected with missed short (inside 10 feet) putts.
- I continue to get a kick out of Jason Dufner, pot-bellied, unflappable, unemotional. He just looks so different from everyone in the competition. It’s like Team USA was one man short so they pulled in a guy from the gallery.
- The best shot, for me, was probably Steve Stricker’s tee shot on the par-3, No. 2 in the afternoon. It hit in the fringe, a yard up from the water, and rolled pin high, a foot from the hole. Second best with Rory McIIroy’s chip-in in the morning on No. 3. It popped up over a hill then went into a twisting slow roll into the cup for a hole win and eventual match win. Third, Phil Mickelson’s chip out of the crap to within eight feet on No. 12 in the afternoon.
- Initially, I thought Team Europe captain Jose Maria Olazabal made a mistake waiting to play Ryder Cup rookie Nicolas Colsaerts. He sat him out the morning sessions and played in the afternoon. My thought was it have been better to throw him in right away. By waiting till the afternoon he could see his see his teammates do well and be under pressure to match it. It they do bad, he’d be under pressure to step up. But he was terrific, carrying his partner, Lee Westwood, in a 1-up victory over Woods and Stricker.
- On the U.S. side, captain Davis Love III would have been better served to use Bubba Watson in both sessions. He can thrive on this course and in this format. It showed when he teamed with Webb Simpson in the afternoon to wipe out Peter Hanson and Paul Lawrie, 5&4, the most lopsided match of the day.
- It’s a gentlemen’s game, lots of handshakes and polite behavior, but I like it when gamesmanship chops up unexpectedly. All match long, one team would concede short putts then, all of sudden, that same putt wwas not conceded. You have to putt it, and sometimes you miss. That can piss people off. It’s a mind game that you can’t find in any other format.