x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Selection gamble for Faldo

After suffering their biggest first-day deficit for almost three decades, have the Europeans hit the panic button at the Ryder Cup?

Europe's Sergio Garcia, left, and Lee Westwood, second from right, are congratulated by team captain Nick Faldo, right, and Jose Maria Olazabal after halving their match.
Europe's Sergio Garcia, left, and Lee Westwood, second from right, are congratulated by team captain Nick Faldo, right, and Jose Maria Olazabal after halving their match.

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY // After suffering their biggest first-day deficit for almost three decades, have the Europeans hit the panic button at the Ryder Cup? It was shocking enough to see the Americans with a commanding 5-1/2 to 2-1/2 lead after day one but when European captain Nick Faldo submitted his line-up for this morning's matches, two familiar names were not there: Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

For the first time in their stellar Ryder Cup careers, the pair will be missing. "We need some fresh legs," Faldo said. The Europeans certainly need something. The team that has won the last three Ryder Cups and five of the past six found themselves in a major hole after yesterday's round. In a stunning turnaround, the Americans rallied from a back-nine deficit four times to take their largest margin after the opening day since continental Europeans joined the British and Irish in 1979.

Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim twice came back from a three-hole deficit and picked up 1-1/2 points, as many as Mickelson earned in the last two Ryder Cups combined. Justin Leonard had never won a match in any of his previous Ryder Cup outings until two victories with Hunter Mahan, one of six US rookies who played like recent European dominance was ancient history. "We're in a good place," The US captain Paul Azinger said. "Who would have thought?"

The Americans have not led after any session since last winning the Ryder Cup in 1999. But, even with Tiger Woods out injured, they lost only one of eight matches and left Faldo wringing his hands. "We've had a tough time," Faldo said. "We lost a few points, but we haven't lost any spirit." Still, the captain's decision to leave out Westwood and Garcia, the longest-serving members of the European team, has raised a few eyebrows.

By halving his two matches, Westwood stretched his streak of unbeaten matches to 12, tying Arnold Palmer's Ryder Cup record. Garcia has never lost a foursomes match until his pairing with fellow Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez resulted in a rout by Leonard and Mahan. Westwood has appeared in 27 straight matches, Garcia in 22. The US captain Paul Azinger refused to get involved in Europe's line-up decisions.

"I'm not going to justify why Nick Faldo does what he does. I'm sure he's confident in the guys he put out there," Azinger said. "I respect everybody on their team. I know what they're capable of, and what's on paper doesn't mean anything to anybody." *AP