x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Ryder Cup pair play catch-up on Dubai course

Good friends, Nicolas Colsaerts and Lee Westwood, carry on from where they left off in Medinah.

Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts were part of the Ryder Cup heroics for Europe.
Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts were part of the Ryder Cup heroics for Europe.

At 11.50am yesterday, two golfers stepped on to the first tee at the Earth Course, shook hands, swapped scorecards and fixed each other with a look that said: "Don't I know you from somewhere?"

And well they might have seemed a little vague, given the celebrations that ensued the last time they were paired together.

On the opening day of the Ryder Cup at the end of September, Nicolas Colsaerts provided Europe with a rare reason for cheer with a sublime round in his rookie four-ball match.

The power-hitting Belgian drained eight birdies and an eagle to single-handedly beat Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker.

He did it all under the eager eye of a playing partner he had asked Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe's captain, to be paired with: Lee Westwood.

"I almost fell in love with him that day at Medinah," Westwood said after yesterday's reunion in the opening round of the DP World Tour Championship.

That much is obvious. The only doubt about that statement is the relevance of the word "almost". This is clearly one of the sport's flourishing bro-mances.

Westwood spent most of the European team's woozy victory press briefing on the night of the "Miracle of Medinah" aping the Belgian's hippified, mid-Atlantic English accent. A few "Hey, dudes" and some "yeah, mans" later, it was clear the Englishman was enjoying the party.

Yesterday's rendezvous in Dubai definitely had a feel of the morning after the night before.

A little sheepish and, initially at least, all business.

After the pre-round formalities, then the opening tee shots, Westwood set off up the fairway at a fair lick, and well in advance of both his playing partner and the caddies.

Chat was in short supply. It was a reminder that golf is only very rarely a team sport.

These players earn their corn by shooting better scores than the people they are playing with, not running around high-fiving them.

That said, a bit of camaraderie can be a boon, too. The "good shot" which Westwood offered to Colsaerts following his iron approach to within 15 feet of the pin at the first was obviously sincere.

It pre-empted an opening birdie for the 30 year old from Belgium. Although Westwood made bogey, the ambience was still overwhelmingly upbeat.

For the second time in recent months, the duo were spurring each other on to excellence on the big stage.

"He is a wonderful guy to play with and I enjoyed all of the games I've had with him," Colsaerts said after signing for a four-under par round of 68.

"That's just another one you can add to the list."

By the time they were at the seventh, each had clearly loosened up. It would be easy for conversation to run dry on a 572 yard par-five, but this hole was not long enough for these two.

They had some catching up to do, and Colsaerts seemed keen to dip in to his friend's greater experience on what next year might hold. Both recently confirmed they will be taking up full-time membership of the US PGA Tour next season.

"He said he's watched the DVD [of their Ryder Cup heroics]," said Westwood, the 2009 Race to Dubai winner who finished within two of last year's money list winner, Luke Donald, with a round of five-under par. "It must be all him on the Friday.

"We were chatting about other things and obviously fed off each other. I started with a bogey, he started with a birdie, I tried to catch him up and just managed to overtake him with a long one at 17.

"It is the kind of course where I think both of us will be there or thereabouts at the end of the week."

That view was echoed by his European teammate. With two bogeys on his card on the way in, Colsaerts felt he might have been better off ahead of this morning's second round, but is confident his game is in good order.

"I feel pretty good," Colsaerts said. "I missed a few chances here and there but tee to green it was pretty solid.

"If you keep hitting the same shots throughout the week and give yourself some decent looks at birdies, you'll be all right."

pradley@thenational.ae

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