x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

It does not take long for the tension to rise at the Ryder Cup

The importance of the competition to both sides was illustrated on the second hole of the opening foursome.

Jim Furyk, right, argues his point about Europe not getting a free drop at the second hole during the opening foursome of the 2012 Ryder Cup.
Jim Furyk, right, argues his point about Europe not getting a free drop at the second hole during the opening foursome of the 2012 Ryder Cup.

Measured in matches or minutes, it didn't take long for the teeth-clenching, flag-waving, adrenal-overload tension of the Ryder Cup to take hold.

With a white-knuckle grip, too.

All of 20 minutes passed Friday morning before the first controversy, which is about par for the course in this event.

The first match off the tee at Medinah Country Club did not gradually ramp up to a crescendo, but symbolically dived headlong off the Sears Tower in nearby Chicago.

By the second green the Ryder moved from steady simmer to full boil, when the first group in the morning foursomes (alternate shot) session were involved in a strained rules standoff.

At an event in which the extraneous and extra-curricular are remembered as vividly as the actual strokes, this could prove to be 2012's defining moment.

Two Americans and two Britons were involved in an old-fashioned Mexican stand-off that not only engaged the partisan crowd, but proved that friendships and niceties are quickly chucked out the window when countries and continents are involved.

With the morning dew still soaking in, it began harmlessly enough when Rory McIlroy's tee shot on the par-three second hole came to rest on the collar of the green, near a sprinkler head located about a foot behind the ball.

After inspecting the lie, his partner, Graeme McDowell, asked for a free drop, which would have allowed him to move the ball onto the green for an easy putt of perhaps 25 feet.

Over the next five minutes, the stand-off grew more than a little tense, and the crowd chipped in with a few insults lobbed at the Northern Ireland pair.

The US veteran Jim Furyk, after inspecting the lie, shook his head in disagreement - perhaps with a trace of dismay - when McIlroy and McDowell asked for free relief and made a point of noting that he had been friendly with the pair for years. That, of course, meant they were not going to like what they heard next.

Arms crossed, Furyk took great exception to the notion of a free drop, insisting that the sprinkler head did not remotely interfere with McDowell's shot. "I don't think it's close," Furyk said.

Same for the match, as it turned out. It mostly incited a riot of early birdies from the European pair, though the crowd tried to get engaged. A male voice in the crowd - it is truly the only event in the generally genteel sport of golf where fans openly root against certain players - bellowed: "Hit a better tee shot next time."

Ah, the Ryder, the only event where lob shots and lobbed insults freely mix. Since neither side was going to back down, Furyk again ambled over to state his case for questioning McDowell's admittedly iffy petition for relief.

The rules official assigned to the group declined to grant relief.

What ensued was a textbook case of Ryder Cup wills. And won'ts. It was positively delicious if for no other reason than it doesn't happen anywhere else in the sport.

"I'm not faulting you for asking," Furyk said evenly, the discussion overheard on television.

"I just think it's my job as playing against you and representing my country, I don't think it's 50-50, I think it's more like 20-80. Do you understand that part of it?"

Well, yes and no, which the Europeans proved a few awkward moments later.

At an impasse, the chief referee David Price of the host PGA of America was summoned from afar to review the situation.

As McDowell grabbed a pitching wedge and stood over the ball to demonstrate the situation for Price, the crowd began to boo and Fuyrk held up a hand to quell the crowd.

After all, it was a bit early to heave the first morning Molotov.

McDowell said to Price, "We all agree that it's a 50-50 call."

Oh, really?

Price eyed McDowell's predicament and declined to give the European team a free drop, prompting a cheer from the gallery.

McDowell hit a poor chip shot to five feet, and McIlroy missed a five-footer for par to lose the hole.

It was McDowell and McIlroy who put up the cease-and-desist sign over the next two hours, mostly eliminating any early home-field advantage. The duo answered the rules snub with four consecutive birdies, and finished one-up to give Europe the first point.

The opening salvo is about more than just a hash mark on the tote board. It is about timbre and tone.

The team that has won the Friday morning session has won the cup in 15 of the past 18 meetings, and the side that claimed the first match of the competition has won the cup 62 per cent of the time over the years and cheers.

"That match, to me, personified the Ryder Cup," McDowell told ESPN.

Not for all the right reasons, necessarily.

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