LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The European press had found a scapegoat for its Ryder Cup team's opening day failings.
Come Sunday, they may not need one anymore.
Europe cut its deficit to the United States from three to two on Saturday, Day 2 of the Ryder Cup Matches, and it could have been closer. Heading into action Saturday morning at Valhalla Golf Club, though, much of the attention was on Captain Nick Faldo's decision to sit Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, a historically formidable pair in foursomes.
"Nick Faldo may not be a good captain, but at least he's a lucky one," read the Telegraph in the U.K.
The article went on to say it was "hideous" American play that saved Faldo's "ludicrous" decision to sit Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood in the morning foursomes.
The criticism couldn't be contained to one continent either. A headline in the Winnipeg Sun read "Team Fooldo."
Much of the criticism came out of mystery. Faldo had left the press center long before the pairings were announced, and he couldn't give the full story about Garcia asking for rest and not wanting to put Westwood with a new partner.
But it was captain's pick Ian Poulter's two wins on Saturday that has quieted the Faldo doubters. Poulter has come up big as some of his other teammates known for their Ryder Cup heroics have come up empty. Garcia and Westwood have yet to win a match. Neither has three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.
Poulter leads European players with three points earned and a 3-1-0 record.
"He came up full stop," Faldo said. "He's playing great, very strong, very strong mind and great in the team room as well. Look at him on the golf course, it's just great stuff."
In Saturday's afternoon matches, each match was tight. All but one came down to the 18th hole, and the other was settled on Valhalla's 17th hole.
Poulter made birdies on 17 and 18 down the stretch to maintain he and Graeme McDowell's 1-up lead. On both, his emotions ran heavy.
"I was digging deep," said Poulter, who has earned three of Europe's seven points after two days. "You have to hole putts in this format. You cannot get away with missing putts.
"We got a huge piece of momentum today," hinted Poulter, who is 3-1 after four matches, Europe's best man thus far. Faldo isn't surprised by Poulter's play, and he's been Europe's only player to play all four matches.
"The man is 23rd in the world rankings and finished second in the Open Championship. That's why I picked him."
When Saturday fourballs were announced, most analysts pointed to a mismatch in the second group: Steve Stricker and Ben Curtis versus Sergio Garcia and Paul Casey.
It ended up being the day's closest match, with 16 halves and a win for each side, including a clutch birdie putt from Stricker on 18. Curtis admitted they were underdogs.
"I think when the pairings came out, 99 percent of the people would agree they didn't expect us to go out there and win," said Curtis. "Especially with the way we played yesterday."
1999 Ryder Cup hero Justin Leonard continues to hit big shots. Playing with Hunter Mahan for the third consecutive match in morning foursomes, Leonard hit a birdie putt on 17 to put them ahead of Miguel Angel Jiminez and Graeme McDowell heading into 18. The Europeans won the hole to take a halve, but Leonard is now 2-0-1, accounting for the United States' most points.
Leonard won't be hitting any Cup-clinching putts Sunday, though. He tees off third versus Robert Karlson in Sunday singles.
Azinger is sending out some of his most aggressive players first, while leaving the relatively unproven Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell to round out the day.
Anthony Kim will lead off at 12:03 p.m. versus Sergio Garcia. The middle line-up looks designed to keep the crowd going. Boo Weekley falls between Kentucky natives Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes.
In what Faldo called an "open discussion," Padraig Harrington will anchor the European team, with Lee Westwood going off second to last.
After two days, 9 of 16 matches have come down to the 18th hole.
September 21, 2008
Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.
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