CASARES, Spain — Ryan Moore got a taste of what to expect from Luke Donald if the two of them meet again at next year’s Ryder Cup. The World No. 39 was handed a match-play lesson by the World No. 2, losing 4 & 3 during Day One of the Volvo World Match Play at Finca Cortesin. Moore will now have to overcome defending champion Ross Fisher to have any chance of advancing to Saturday’s round of 16.
The only American in the field, Moore heard a polite ripple of applause on the first tee Thursday. With his unkempt beard, faded blue pants and pencil-thin black tie, he could be mistaken for a geography teacher. Although with his bearded brother, Jason, alongside him on his bag, the two Seattle boys looked more like a ZZ Top tribute act or the Soggy Bottom Boys from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
Moore’s play was anything but neat. He hooked his opening tee shot into rough, then hooked again with his iron approach to the green. His ball bounced off the side of the bank of the elevated green and ricocheted into a bunker, where his ball came to rest on the lip at the back of the trap.
“I can’t get under it,” Moore said to his brother. “Just gonna try to bounce it on the bank.”
He slapped at it, but left it in the sand. His second bunker shot rolled back down the bank until he chipped on with his fifth stroke. Hole conceded. Dreadful start. Donald 1-up. Moore squared the match at the par-3 second, when Donald ran his looping lag putt 8 feet past the hole then missed the one coming back. But Moore missed another fairway on the third and compounded his error. Missed green. Bunker. Missed putt. Donald was a grateful spectator again.
The contrast in their swings was a lesson in physics and physiques. Donald’s swing is compact, athletic and eminently repeatable under pressure. And he has bulked up to find extra yards. Moore’s swing is a jerky, DIY, homemade lunge. Yet it has served him well over the years and Moore showed the fighting qualities that won him the 2004 U.S. Amateur championship and made him the most celebrated American amateur since Tiger Woods.
However, Donald got 3-up on Moore after seven holes and kept his opponent at arm’s length on a course so hilly that players and caddies are driven in carts from several greens up to elevated tees carved out of the side of the hill. Finca Cortesin has already been dubbed Finca Cortisone by the caddies, who will need more than their regulation 10 percent to ease the pain of this week’s hiking and orienteering competition.
Donald defeated Martin Kaymer in the final of February’s WGC-Accenture World Match Play when the German became World No. 1. Now he is looking ahead to a possible Sunday clash with the current World No. 1 Lee Westwood. The first Englishmen to be ranked the best two players in the world are seeded to meet in the final.
“I would love to play Lee,” Donald said. “Just like playing Martin in the final at Tucson. It’s more satisfaction if you can take down the best player in the world.”
Those are fighting words, but Donald said there has been no banter between him and Westwood. Maybe that’s because Westwood knows that if he makes the final and loses to Donald he would still earn enough ranking points to keep the No. 1 spot for another week.
Westwood had an easy opening match, dispatching Andres Hansen 6 & 5. Westwood has won his last two stroke play tournaments, but he is smart enough not to wear a Superman T-shirt this week.
“I’ve seen enough ups and downs in golf to know that you don’t take good play for granted,” he said. “You have to constantly work at it. But if you play as well as I played today, then you obviously allow that to affect your confidence and build it up.”
Next up for Westwood is Aaron Baddeley. Donald’s second match is against Fisher.
Thursday was also a good day for the home team. Spain’s Miguel Angel Jimenez brought Masters champion Charl Schwartzel crashing down to earth with a 6 & 5 thrashing and poured himself a glass of rioja in the media center afterward. The Mechanic needs his oil.
Meanwhile, fellow Spaniard Alvaro Quiros saw off Paul Casey 3 & 1. Francesco Molinari versus Ian Poulter was the only match to finish all square, while Rory McIlroy chipped in at 18 to halve the hole with Retief Goosen and win the match by 1 hole. World No.3 Martin Kaymer won four holes in a row from the 12th to fight back against Y.E. Yang en route to a 2 & 1 victory.
Graeme McDowell’s game proved too strong for Louis Oosthuizen; McDowell took the Battle of the Open Champions 3 & 1. Next up for the 2010 U.S. Open winner is Vegas. That’s Jhonattan, not the roulette wheels. But the big-hitting Venezuelan will not relish playing two matches in one day on a course that is so demanding even the mountain goats rope themselves together.
“You honestly couldn’t put a bag on your shoulder and walk around that course,” McDowell said with a grin. “It’s designed for carts. It’s just unwalkable.”
McDowell was happy to get back to winning ways after last Sunday’s meltdown at the Players Championship, where he took a one-shot lead into the final round at Sawgrass and shot 79.
“I have no regrets,” he said. “I was as well prepared as I could be and I knew I didn’t get nervous. I was tired and didn’t get my nutrition and hydration right. It wasn’t pressure that got to me so I just have to put it as a blip on the radar and move on.”