LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Phil Mickelson has finally found himself the perfect playdate.
One who can seriously play.
Mickelson and 23-year-old Ryder Cup rookie Anthony Kim took 1.5 of 2 possible points on Day 1 of the Ryder Cup matches Friday at Valhalla Golf Club. Even more importantly, the two led off for the American squad in both sessions, setting the tone for a return to Ryder Cup respectability.
Finding an effective partner for the talents - and misses - of Mickelson hasn't been easy in recent Cup memory. In 2004, Hal Sutton controversially put Tiger Woods and Mickelson together twice and the pair lost both matches. In 2006, Chris Dimarco and Mickelson lost both foursome matches together.
Kim and Mickelson had been lobbying Captain Paul Azinger to play with each other for weeks. Azinger granted that wish, and is now looking like a genius for doing so. The two look like best friends on the monkey bars together.
"I love playing with this guy," said Mickelson. "He has a lot of talent, a lot of game.
"It was fun for me to get that youthful exuberance today.
It wasn't an easy start for them in either match. In each, they were down after the second hole - and found themselves down by three at one point as well.
Mickelson gradually gained that sheepish smile and playground attitude as the day wore on. He really caught fire starting on the 12th, hitting his approach shot to gimmie range. Then on Valhalla's signature 13th hole with the island green, Mickelson was the only one of the group to miss the fairway. No worries, he stuck his bunker shot tighter than anyone else and made the birdie to halve the match.
Kim's tee shot on 14 was close, followed by a slippery left-to-right putt, which gave them their first lead of the match.
"I wasn't completing a run for us; I was completing a run for Phil," said Kim. "He held me up when I wasn't playing well."
Mickelson, who has played in more than 20 Ryder Cup matches, was credited for serving as a "calming influence" on the young firecracker with the flashy belts and brisk walk.
"I was definitely a bit nervous," admitted Kim. "But when you have Phil Mickelson on your side, you can rely on him to hit quality shots."
Two-time defending British Open Champion Padraig Harrington was holing putts from all over the course Friday. For his efforts, he leaves with half a point after a missed birdie opportunity on 18 in the afternoon match to halve Mickelson and Kim.
"It was a pity there at the end that we didn't squeeze another half point out of it," he said. "But such is life.
"It was a lot of work for that."
Suddenly, it's the American pairings that look unbeatable, and Europe's mainstays are shaky. Europe's most feared Ryder Cup pair was Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, who played in the morning together versus Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk.
After taking the lead early, they took advantage of a Perry miscue on the 17th green and then found water on the 18th drive to escape with a halve.
That wasn't Westwood's only close call. In the afternoon fourballs, he again entered the 18th down, this time with Soren Hansen, and watched his opponents find the right hazard once more and escaped again with a halve.
Garcia, playing in the afternoon with countryman Miguel Angel Jiminez, wasn't so lucky. They were routed 4 and 3 by Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, who took the lead on the first hole and never gave it back. Garcia goes from Europe's unbeatable stud to riding the bench with Westwood tomorrow morning as Faldo blew up the line up heading into Saturday.
Azinger will go with the same pairings in the morning that he went with Friday. Mickelson might show up 20 pounds lighter and with short hair again.
September 20, 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.
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