Opening day at the 39th Ryder Cup didn’t go well for Team Europe on Friday, but the gang that won four of the last five competitions did win one battle.
The two captain’s picks made by European captain Jose Maria Olazabal were twice as productive as the four captain’s picks made by U.S. captain Davis Love III.
Different selection methods were used to decide the rosters of the two teams. The top five on the European PGA Tour were automatic picks for Olazabal as were the next top five (not counting those players) in the world rankings.
So, all that Olazabal had to pick were England’s Ian Poulter and Belgium’s Nicolas Colsaerts, and both of them played big roles in taking down Tiger Woods on Thursday.
Poulter and fellow Englander Justin Rose took care of Woods and his long-time partner Steve Stricker 2-1 in the morning foursomes and Colsaerts did almost all the work himself when he paired with Lee Westwood for a 1-up win in the last four-ball match of the afternoon.
Europe trails after Day 1 by a 5-3 margin, but its captain’s picks went 2-0. By comparison Love’s four choices – Dustin Johnson, Stricker, Brandt Snedeker and Jim Furyk were a combined 1-4.
Poulter may not have earned an automatic berth on the team, but he may just as well have been one because he was an obvious choice for Olazabal. In three previous Ryder Cups Poulter was a star for Europe, posting an 8-3-0 record, and he was the only player with top-10 finishes in three of the year’s four major championships.
Two of Poulter’s three Ryder Cup losses came when Woods was an opponent. This time, though, Poulter holed a bunker shot and made a critical five-foot par save as he and Rose never trailed.
Colsaerts, 29, earned his captain’s pick with a strong finish to a season that included a title in the Volvo World Match Play tourney. One of the longest hitters in Europe, he is the first player from Belgium to play in the Ryder Cup, and his debut may well be the most spectacular in the event’s history. He was 10-under-par on his own ball, making eight birdies and an eagle.
“I don’t know what to say,’’ said Colsaerts. “When I was a kid I dreamed of being in this tournament, and it felt wonderful to produce on such a big stage.’’
“I had the best seat in the house to watch it,’’ said Westwood, long one of Europe’s best Ryder Cuppers. “His round was a joy to watch. I didn’t really have a lot to do. Everything he looked at went in.’’
Colsaerts’ biggest putt was a clutch 25-footer with a two-foot break for birdie at No. 17. The Euros needed it with Woods’ coin marker sitting three feet from the cup for the birdie that could have evened the match had Colsaerts missed.
While Olazabal made good captain’s picks, he didn’t make full use of them Thursday. Poulter played only in the morning and Colsaerts only in the afternoon.
“Ollie (Olazabal) really wanted to get everybody playing on Friday, so four guys had to change after the morning round,’’ said Poulter. “I realize we’re a team, and that team is very, very, very strong this year. He said he would like to keep me fresh for Saturday and Sunday.’’