Bunker Mentality

Europe given taste of their own Ryder medicine

After the first nine holes of the Ryder Cup, everything was going to plan. Europe were up in all four of the opening foursomes matches, and it felt like the beginning of another heroic victory in the making.

Four hours later, the scoreboard was coloured red and all Bunker Mentality could think was: "Ahhh, so this is what it feels like."

It actually made BM feel sorry for the Americans. This was the exact sort of drubbing that European golfers have regularly inflicted on Americans over the past three decades of the Ryder Cup. And wow, how bad did it feel to be on the wrong side of it.

What made the fourball results at Medinah feel so devastating was not the scale of the defeat - after all, losing the session 3-1 and the day 5-3 is not exactly a disaster. But it sure felt like one after the tantalising potential prospect of going 4-0 up after four matches evaporated, with the scoreboards turning from blue to red, and the tuneless choruses of Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole being replaced with the drunken howls of USA, USA, USA.

Yet it was the manner of the defeat which stung the most. After coming back from the dead in the foursomes to level the scores at 2-2 by lunchtime, the Americans turned up the heat even more as the fourballs started. They fired shot after shot close to the pins. They rolled putt after putt straight in the middle. Even when they carved tee shots into the trees - as Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker did on a regular basis - they conjured eye-popping recovery shots. It may be European golf that is mourning the passing of the great Ballesteros, but if anyone was channelling the spirit of Seve at Medinah it was the American team.

By contrast, the European side was having one of those afternoons where nothing worked out. Putts lipped out so frequently that you'd have thought the edges of the cups had been smeared with Vaseline. With the exception of Ian Poulter in the morning and Nicolas Colsaerts in the afternoon, Europe's players often looked nervous, twitchy and uninspired. Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell won their morning foursomes, but that was more down to Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker falling asleep for the first 14 holes to slip three down. The Americans woke up and pulled it back to all square on the 18th tee, but two lucky bounces for the Europeans on the last prevented them from slipping further into trouble.

In the end, only the brilliance of Colsaerts saved Europe from staring down the barrel as he single-handedly beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker. Westwood failed to make a single birdie, and indeed his ball only counted four holes.

Colsaerts aside, though, it was a difficult day to be a European golf fan. Yet as bad as it was, the truth is that it really doesn't matter. While it's tough to lose a day that felt one-sided, the bald facts show that a 5-3 deficit after day one is statistically meaningless.

In Europe's two record victories over America, when they ended up winning 18.5-9.5 in 2004 and 2006, they led 6.5-1.5 and 5-3 respectively after the opening day. Looked at that way, things seem grim.

Yet when America dished out its record win over Europe - also an 18.5 victory, recorded back in 1981 - it was actually Europe that led 4.5-3.5 after the opening day. Their early efforts were undone by a team that won just five of the next 15 points available, but anyone putting a bet on after the first eight matches might well have thought a European win was on the cards.

And that's not all. At Brookline in 1999 Europe led 10-6 going into the singles, and still lost; at Oak Hill in 1995, Europe trailed 5-3 after day one and 9-7 going into the singles, and still won; after two sessions of the rain-affected match at Celtic Manor two years ago, Europe trailed 6-4 but they fought back to lead 9.5-6.5 into the singles, and won after it went down to the wire.

Struggling to see a pattern? That's because there isn't one. Two points sounds a lot, but it's a one-match swing, with 20 more matches still to be played.

What's more, Europe now know that they've weathered the best golf America can throw at them - sublime stuff - without wilting, and indeed conceding only a two-point advantage.

The US side, meanwhile, will wonder what more they could have done. If their golf was only good enough for a two-point lead then what on earth would they have needed to earn more than that? It would have needed selections dreamt up in a late-night  golfers' drinking game - perhaps Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, Zeus and Jesus Christ, and Harry Potter and Harry Houdini - to give them a chance of 4-0. Mere mortals never seemed likely to be enough to put them out of sight, as they had deserved to be.

Player of the Day: Only one man on the visiting side seemed immune to the tension: Nicolas Colsaerts. It seems to be Belgium's year of unearthing sporting superstars, and Colsaerts's vast drives, magnificent iron play, silky touch around the greens and unerring putting under pressure clearly mark him out as a potential world beater. Eight birdies and an eagle on foreign soil, and against perhaps the greatest player of all time in Tiger Woods, make his indisputably the greatest Ryder Cup debut of all time.

Shot of the Day: After carving a shot deep into the trees on the 12th during the afternoon fourballs, Phil Mickelson looked like he would do well to even find a decent lay-up option. Instead, he smashed a shot with a fairway wood that carved around one huge tree, soared over another and landed softly just eight feet from the hole. The rest of the trio, incidentally, all missed the green from the middle of the fairway.

Bad captaincy decision of the day 1: Davis Love III putting Tiger Woods out in the afternoon fourballs after an outrageously bad morning foursomes performance in which he slashed wildly into the trees time after time after time. Love's faith was not repaid.

Bad captaincy of the day 2: Jose Maria Olazabal dropping Ian Poulter after an inspirational morning foursomes performance. He kept faith instead with Lee Westwood, who was well-beaten in the morning and dire in the afternoon.

Saturday prediction: After riding their luck to get out of day one two points down, Europe will break even on day two and go into the singles facing a two-point deficit.