Thursday 26 April 2018

Harrington hits form as Europe seize initiative

Dermot Gilleece at Celtic Manor

At the end of the longest day of sustained competition in Ryder Cup history, Europe were poised to achieve their captain's wish of going into today's singles level with the US.

"This has been a very important two hours' play, but the job is only half done," said European captain Colin Montgomerie.

With the Americans leading 6-4, he was referring to the unprecedented situation of Europe leading in all six matches, which are due to be finished this morning. "I want to go into the singles level at 8-8," he urged his players. And they responded magnificently.

In the break before the final pairs session commenced, Montgomerie spent most time with the Irish duo of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy. It had clearly been a shock, not only to the players but to their captain when they relinquished a one-hole foursomes lead against Stewart Cink and Matt Kuchar with three to play, to lose on the 18th.

It meant that instead of the teams being level, the Americans went two points clear with overall wins in both of the first two sessions. "That was a blow," said the captain. "And I knew how badly Graeme and Rory felt about it."

"My real concern was that the Americans were silencing the crowd. I was in teams which did that on American soil and it means you're taking command. So I had to try and get the crowd back on our side as a 13th man and the only way we could achieve that was through better golf. We needed more passion," he continued.

In terms of the match situation, Europe have fallen victim to an area they dominated in the record victory at Oakland Hills in 2004: they failed to win the 18th in five of the seven matches that went the distance.

Meanwhile, Padraig Harrington's tournament was transformed by Montgomerie's decision to have him partner rookie Ross Fisher in yesterday afternoon's foursomes. Prior to that, in his fourball as Luke Donald's partner, Harrington had been almost invisible, leaving the Englishman to do virtually all the work in a match they, predictably, lost. By that stage, the Dubliner was the only one of the 16 players in action who had failed to register a birdie.

Pairing him with Fisher, however, changed everything. Harrington began to play with a confidence that had been sadly absent earlier. And having been retained for the last fourball matches, the partnership have established a one-hole lead after eight over crack Americans Jim Furyk and Dustin Johnson.

Meanwhile, the event remains on a knife-edge, not only where the destination of the trophy is concerned. There are fears of a return of heavy rain today, almost on a scale of what was experienced last Friday morning, when play had to be suspended.

In an attempt at completing the traditional 28 matches by this evening, the organisers took the unprecedented step of having two sessions of six matches yesterday, effectively running three series into two. But Montgomerie warned last night: "If we have any delays at all, it will not finish tomorrow."

He further scotched any suggestion of quickening up the singles process by using two tees or even resorting to a shotgun start. "Every match will start on the first tee," he said. "If that can't happen, we will play the singles on Monday."

There is little point now in stating that the weather problems were effectively an accident waiting to happen. Nick Faldo won no friends at Valhalla two years ago by warning his audience at the closing ceremony to bring their wet-gear to Wales.

Unfortunately, he has been proved right. It remains to be seen whether the event will have the stroke of good fortune it needs to finish on schedule. The omens aren't good.

Sunday Independent

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