NEWPORT, Wales — The first day of the Ryder Cup was defined more by what didn’t happen than what did.
The afternoon foursomes were not played because of a seven-hour rain delay. The U.S. players were wet and grumpy because their raingear turned out not to be waterproof. And the surprising pairing of American rookies Jeff Overton and Bubba Watson were not, as expected, sacrificial lambs.
What is entirely unsurprising is that this Ryder Cup is already looking like an evenly matched tussle. The Europeans have been touted as heavy favorites, but this U.S. squad features four of the top five players in the World Rankings, and early indications are that the Yanks have come to play. With the quartet of four-balls all near the halfway mark, the U.S. leads in two matches and is all-square in another. And the lone European advantage feels a little hollow as Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson rode a late birdie barrage to go from 3 down to 1 down with six holes to play against Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
Speaking for his team, European captain Colin Montgomerie said at the conclusion of play, “They will be slightly disappointed that they didn’t hole the putts that they had to hole this evening.”
It was the Americans who were down in the mouth at the start of the day, thanks to an inexplicable wardrobe malfunction. Play began Friday morning in a driving rain, and almost immediately some American players were visibly uncomfortable as their rain suits — already panned for gaudy design elements — failed to keep them dry.
If you’re going to play a Ryder Cup in Newport, Wales, in October, it might be a good idea to test out the waterproofs in advance, no? The Americans caught a break when play was halted after an hour-and-a-half as the Twenty Ten Course at Celtic Manor became overly saturated, not an altogether unexpected development given that it’s built in a flood plain at the bottom of a valley. At the time of the stoppage, Europe led in three of the matches.
During the lengthy delay, the U.S. side cleaned out the merchandise tent, paying full retail for generic rain suits that were supposed to be sold to the public. When play resumed at 5 p.m. local time, the Americans appeared much more relaxed and comfortable. Watson and Overton, two long-hitting but occasionally erratic talents, continued their steady play and led 1 up through 8 holes when the match was halted by darkness. Tiger Woods produced two key birdies, and were it not for the cold putter of partner Steve Stricker, they would be faring much better than all-square through 10 holes against Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher. Three long birdie putts by Stewart Cink staked he and partner Matt Kuchar to a 2-up lead through 11 holes versus Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell.
The four-balls will resume Saturday morning — “It’s basically an eight-hole boat race,” said Woods — and then the Ryder Cup will try to get back on schedule with a rejiggered format. The ensuing session will comprise six foursome matches instead of the usual four. The third session will feature two foursomes and four four-ball matches and will almost surely not be completed until Sunday morning.
If the weather cooperates, the 12 singles sessions will be played following the third session. But the Sunday weather forecast is grim, and a Monday finish is a distinct possibility. Still, after a wet, weird opening day, the Ryder Cup promises an action-packed weekend.
Hopefully the golf, not the weather, will be the story.