With its many twists and turns, the Ryder Cup is impossible to predict

Jeff Overton has surprised many with his play so far in Wales.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

NEWPORT, Wales — Everything we thought we knew about this Ryder Cup has been wrong.

The story of the porous American rain suits? Woefully overblown. The Yanks didn't even need to wear them after returning to the course after the seven-hour rain delay Friday, when the sun bathed soggy Celtic Manor in golden light.

The guy who was certain to lead America, who just won the $10 million FedEx Cup and the $1.35 million Tour Championship? The First National Bank of Jim Furyk didn't even get the call in the opening session, sitting out the first four four-ball matches along with teammates Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan.

And what of the guy whom U.S. captain Corey Pavin forgot to introduce in the opening ceremony, Stewart Cink? European captain Colin Montgomerie, only half in jest, said the gaffe meant Europe was 1 up before the matches began. It was classic arrogance, but Monty's quip wasn't nearly as egregious as the fact that people actually believed him.

As it turned out, Cink spoke loudest with five birdies as he and Matt Kuchar took a 2-up lead over Northern Ireland's Big Mac Attack, Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy on Friday. McIlroy birdied three of the last six holes Saturday for a halve.

The 21-year-old McIlroy, who last year called the Ryder Cup an "exhibition" that's "not that important to me," naturally showed the most fire of anyone on his team after making a bomb on the par-3 17th hole to keep Europe from falling behind 3-1 early.

About the only thing anyone's got right about this Ryder Cup is the forecast, for rain. Nick Faldo called it two years ago. (Granted it was one of the few things he got right as captain of the 2008 European team.) But after such a wet start, the sun returned early Saturday, blessedly without the usual morning mist, and play resumed at 8 a.m.

America's best team on paper, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson, went down to defeat the quickest, losing the lead match 3 and 2 to Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood.

Mickelson tried to rally the visiting team with three straight birdies, but Johnson, who has gotten so many accolades as the next great American player you could call him this year's Anthony Kim, never looked comfortable.

According to Sky TV analyst Butch Harmon, who is also Johnson's swing coach, Johnson broke his driver while practicing Thursday night. Maybe that's why he sprayed his 3-wood all over the yard in the first round of his Ryder Cup career.

Europe's most electric Ryder Cup player, Ian Poulter, couldn't find his game Saturday morning as Tiger Woods (who still doesn't look right) and Steve Stricker (five birdies) beat Poulter and Ross Fisher 2 up.

But the surprise of the tournament's first session was 27-year-old Indianan Jeffrey Laurence Overton, who was going to be hidden because he looked like America's least likely qualifier and has never won on Tour. Many golf fans, even Americans, still would not recognize Overton and wouldn't be able to tell you how he got here. (Overton finished second at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, the HP Byron Nelson and the Greenbrier Classic, and was seventh of eight men to make the U.S. team on points.)

Pavin put him out with Bubba Watson in the anchor match against Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington — a decision that confounded even Montgomerie. Donald was 5-1-1 in two Cups and had never been beaten in team play. Harrington has won three majors. You imagined them wondering which one was Overton and which was Watson.

So naturally Overton birdied four straight holes on the back nine to put the U.S. 3 up, made a testy, five-foot par putt to halve the 14th hole, and tallied six birdies overall as the long-hitting Americans closed out the match 3 and 2.

"He looks extremely comfortable," a wry announcer said on Sky TV, "unlike his [low-hanging] trousers, which look very uncomfortable."

Harrington, a captain's pick who was supposed to be hot after shooting a final-round 64 at the European Tour's Vivendi Cup last weekend, was dead weight as only Donald kept the Euro tandem from an even worse drubbing. Sky's Harmon said on the air it wasn't yet time to begin second-guessing the choice of Harrington instead of Paul Casey as one of Montgomerie's wildcard picks, thereby commencing second-guessing.

Pavin, meanwhile, looks like a mad genius for starting Overton and Watson.

The idea that the Americans were going to be playing in a terrifying, overly hostile environment? Wrong again. Wales so far has been pretty gentle, like whales.

"People have been tremendous," said Fletcher Pavin, one of Corey's two brothers who wore jackets with "Team Pavin" and American flags emblazoned on the back, and who were watching their third Ryder Cup, their first in Europe. "You're worried that people are going to give you a hard time, but they could not be more friendly. The whole country has really wanted to put its best foot forward, and the people have been great."

The Pavin brothers, who came here as part of a group of 10 fans who have toured the U.K. for the last few weeks, have been staying at a B and B in Coychurch, a one-pub town about 30 miles north of Celtic Manor. They've been so warmly received at that one pub, the White Horse Inn, they've returned to it every night, Fletcher said.

The atmosphere, the uniforms, the pairings, the early results — what else can we get wrong? The way this Ryder Cup has been retrofitted into Saturday, maybe we were wrong to say this thing wouldn't end 'til Monday. Let's hope we were wrong about that.

It's early yet. There's no telling which way this thing will go, but as the most action-packed Saturday in history takes shape we can make at least one statement that might just stand the test of time: Even at a hype-fest like this and even with time to kill during a seven-hour rain delay, it's madness to judge a Ryder Cup before it even begins.

 

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