Whereas the Brits took the tournament by the horns in the morning, you would always expect that any team with Seve Ballesteros at the helm would not be lacking in fight as the Europeans stole the afternoon Fourballs by three matches to one with a leaderboard littered with red birdie numbers and a few eagles too.
First match out was Lee Westwood and Swindon’s David Howell playing against the European Captain and Sunningdale favourite, “Captain” Ballesteros, partnered ably by his old Ryder Cup sparring partner Jose Maria Olazabal.
In fact, it was hard to tell who was the home team as the biggest cheers were for the legendary Spanish pairing. That left a puzzled Westwood and Howell wondering if this tournament had been suddenly shipped across the sea to Spain so partisan was the crowd for Seve and Ollie.
“I think if we hadn’t been down in the other three matches, the crowd would have been all guns blazing for Seve and Ollie. David and I discussed it on the way around and Seve is loved so much around the world, especially in England. He has such a solid fan base that it was strange he was in the opposition for a change and the crowd were a bit unsure.” Said Westwood.
But with the crowd deciding on cheering the Spanish pairing, Westwood and Howell knuckled down to the job in hand and gelled well together with a better ball of 5-under par to win 2&1 and take the Europeans into a temporary, if unpopular, 4-1 lead.
But in the remaining matches, Europe showed grit and determination to overcome the morning deficit.
Any other day, Darren Clarke accompanied by new partner John Bickerton would have settled to shoot 65 better ball around Sunningdale. But Thomas Bjorn and Miguel Angel Jimenez, (the Scottish Spaniard…Jimmy Ness!) went one better, shooting 64 in the benign conditions deep in the heart of Surrey.
In a match full of red numbers, Jimenez drew first blood only to see Bickerton follow up with a birdie of his own at the first hole. And Bjorn, who had obviously received somewhat of a rollicking from Captain Seve, made amends for his missed tiddler at the 18th during the foursomes in the morning to start the topsy turvy match at the third hole with a great birdie three.
The two pairings birdied six out of the first nine holes leaving Europe 1up at the turn. But Clarke birdied the short 13th to level the match and it looked as though we had a game on our hands. The next was halved in birdie fours and at the 15th, Bjorn made two on the longest par three on the course to put the Europeans one hole ahead and eventually close the match out to gain the second point of the day for Europe and make restitution for the previous lack of housekeeping on the final green.
Alex Cjeka and Bernhard Langer ham and egged well against Monty’s wild card Ian Woosnam and Ireland’s in form Padraig Harrington. The German representatives of the European team went out in 31 strokes as a better ball and birdied the 11th and the 14th before closing out the match on the 17th hole for a 2&1 victory.
And in the last match, hot favourite Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie received a lesson from Sergio Garcia and Jarmo Sandelin in how to make eagles to win matches.
Garcia and Sandelin fired three eagles and five birdies in the anchor match for a 3&2 victory over the Scots. An eagle at the first hole from Garcia set the tone for the afternoon and with two birdies from Sandelin at the 3rd and 6th, Britain were still all square on the first eight holes after a battling Monty and Lawrie fired in four birdies of their own.
It was perhaps the hottest match of the day and the temperature increased around a cold and miserable Sunningdale when, at the ninth hole, a drive-able par four, Garcia drove the green. Needless to say, he made the putt for his second eagle of the afternoon and the Europeans went one up, even after Monty made a birdie at the same hole.
The young Spaniard and the lanky Sandelin turned the gas up to mark 5 with birdies on the 11th and 12th to forge ahead by three holes before a temporary glitch at the next gave a hole back. But Sandelin thought it would be rude not to join Garcia in the eagle hunt with one of his own at the par five 14th.
With a birdie form Garcia at the next, only matched by team-mate Bjorn two matches ahead, the Continentals closed out the match at the 16th.
“We went out there and hit a lot of good shots”, said a very pleased Garcia.
“We didn’t want to be too far behind and there was a moment where I thought we might be a bit lucky to win all four games in the afternoon. But we played well and at 4-4, it is a pretty good result after the foursomes”. He added.
Captain Monty was philosophical in defeat from the Young pairing: “Sergio played very well against Paul and I, to have three eagles and four birdies, that is ten under for a start!” said Montgomerie.
With the Inaugural trophy poised at 4-4 after the first day, this event has taken on some significance already as a proving ground for potential Ryder Cup players.
Both Jarmo Sandelin and Jean Van de Velde proved that if blooded earlier at Brookline, the Ryder Cup could well have been sitting proudly in the PGA Headquarters at the Belfry…but hindsight is a great thing, especially in golf.
Seve will be the happier of the Captains going into the Saturday morning fourballs with a level scoreline. But he is confident that his team will come up trumps, even though officially they are not playing at home, or are they?
“I didn’t really feel I was playing with my team away from home. I felt the people responded with a great deal of sportsmanship and I am very grateful for that. I don’t think it would happen in any other country”, said Ballesteros.
“To be out there this morning and watching both teams, I felt this is like the Ryder Cup, the quality of the golf they played and the response by the people and the atmosphere. I felt that we the players were the chicken and the people were the sauce. If you have chicken with no sauce, it doesn’t taste very good does it?” Added “Chef” Seve.
DAY TWO PAIRINGS
Saturday 15th April 2000
0810: Jimenez/Olazabal (EUR)vs Woosnam/Montgomerie(GB&I)
0825: Sandelin/Karlsson(EUR) vs Lawrie/Orr(GB&I)
0840: Bjorn/Garcia(EUR) vs Bickerton/Price(GB&I)
0855: Cejka/Van de Velde(EUR) vs Clarke/Westwood(GB&I)