MEDINAH, Ill. — Nicolas Colsaerts made quite a first impression in his introduction to the Ryder Cup.
The first Belgian player to ever participate in the matches and one of European team captain Jose Maria Olazabal’s two captain’s picks, Colsaerts made the greatest debut in the 39 occurrences of the Ryder Cup.
He made eight birdies and an eagle to single-handedly defeat world No. 2 Tiger Woods and No. 12 Steve Stricker 1 up Friday in an afternoon four-ball (best ball) match at Medinah Country Club.
“When you get to play on a stage like this and you show the world that you’ve got this, I mean, this has to be the best round I ever played,” Colsaerts said.
Colsaerts, 29, the event’s lowest-ranked player in the world at No. 35 and the only European Ryder Cup rookie, kept his team from being swept in the four afternoon matches as the U.S. took a 5-3 lead after the opening day of competition.
His partner, Lee Westwood, didn’t contribute a single birdie. “I had the best seat in the house,” Westwood said. “It was a pleasure to watch and a joy to watch, I have to admit. You never know how people are going to react to their first round at Ryder Cup and I think he took to it quite nicely.
“I didn’t really have a lot to do. He brought me in to read a putt on 15 and I panicked. I wondered why he was even asking me because everything he looked at went in. I mean, why ruin it now? So it was an amazing, amazing round of golf.”
Colsaerts birdied three of the first five holes and lipped out birdie putts on the other two. He added birdies on the par-5 seventh and par-4 ninth, which gave the Europeans a 1 up lead, and eagled the par-5 10th hole with an approach to 7 feet to put the Europeans 2 up and reach 7 under through 10 on his own ball.
The lead fell to one on a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe by Woods on the 11th, but Colsaerts’ 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th stretched the lead back to two. He birdied the short par-4 15th to regain the two-hole lead, but Woods again cut the deficit to one with a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-4 16th, and threatened to tie the match with a tee shot inside 4 feet of the hole on the par-3 17th.
Colsaerts had other plans, draining a 25-foot uphill birdie putt that turned about 2 feet before Woods could make his birdie. Colsaerts motioned to the crowd to give him his due after the putt. “It was my first uncontrolled Ryder Cup reaction as all of you would have seen,” Colsaerts said. “So it’s a pretty special moment you can be proud of I guess.”
Colsaerts is one of the longest players in golf and has been working for the past couple years with renowned putting instructor Dave Stockton.
“Nicolas probably had one of the greatest putting rounds I’ve ever seen,” said Woods, who made seven of his duo’s nine birdies. “… I drove it great this afternoon and was in position, but we ran into a guy who just made absolutely everything.”
The waiting game
Coastal Carolina alum Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar comprised the last American team to see the first tee Friday, but the results were worth the wait.
Johnson and Kuchar, who made it known they wanted to be paired together, did not play in the morning foursomes (alternate shot) matches and were the last team to tee off in the afternoon four-balls after 1 p.m. local time.
They opened up a three-hole lead over Justin Rose and Martin Kaymer through seven holes and maintained at least a two-hole lead thereafter, winning 3 and 2.
“It was tough not playing the morning session and having to wait, and then being fourth off,” Kuchar said.
Rose birdied the first hole to give Europe a quick lead, but Johnson buried a 30-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the par-3 second hole to tie the match. Kuchar carried the team with four consecutive birdies on holes 4-7.
Kuchar holed birdie putts of 20, 15 and 12 feet and got up and down from a bunker for birdie on the par-5 fifth. Johnson stuffed his approach to 4 feet on the sixth, but he never attempted the putt because Kuchar rolled in the 15-footer to maintain a 2 up lead.
“I got hot there for a while with the putter and then Dustin continued to stay strong through the back nine,” Kuchar said. “I mean, I kind of fell back on him and relied on him, and this guy is a horse. When he turns it on, it’s fun to watch.”
Johnson contributed a long bunker shot at the par-3 13th green to tap-in range for a par that halved the hole and maintained a two-hole advantage, he birdied the par-5 14th hole with a 15-foot putt to offset a Rose birdie, and got up and down for birdie on the short par-4 15th.
“All day we just kept saying, ‘Let’s just have some fun,’ and the crowds out there were great,” Johnson said. “I had a blast all day long. You know, it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had playing golf today.”
The waiting game continues Saturday, as Johnson and Kuchar aren’t scheduled for a morning foursomes match.
Both U.S. team captain Davis Love III and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal were open to second-guessing for decisions they made for the afternoon four-ball matches.
Love opted to send Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker back out as partners in the afternoon after they dropped a 2 and 1 decision to Rose and Ian Poulter in foursomes. Neither played well in the morning, and Woods was particularly erratic in all areas of the game with wayward drives, inconsistent iron play and shaky putting.
The morning loss was their third consecutive defeat as teammates combining the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup after they won their first six matches as a pair, and the previous two losses had been blowouts.
Woods and Stricker accounted for the only American loss in the afternoon, falling 1 up to Lee Westwood and Nicolas Colsaerts, though Woods played well with seven birdies, second most of the 16 four-ball players. He was unable to hole a 12-foot putt to halve the match on 18, however.
“They played great and probably would have beaten anyone else on the course other than Colsaerts,” Love said.
Olazabal chose to sit three of his team’s most successful Ryder Cup performers in the afternoon.
Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia, who had been a combined 14-0-1 in Ryder Cup foursome matches, were both sat down after dropping a foursome morning match to 4 and 3 to Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley.
Donald is 8-3-1 in the Ryder Cup while Garcia is 14-7-4, including 13-3-4 in team matches. Also held out of the afternoon matches was Ian Poulter, who improved to 9-3-0 in the Ryder Cup with his morning victory with Rose.
“I wanted to have every player play during the first day and in order to do that you have to drop some of the players that played in the morning,” Olazabal said. “At the same time this is a long week. … I don’t want to run down my top players before Sunday. To have them rested one session I think was a pretty good idea.”
Poulter said he’s ready to play the remaining matches. “I would love to have played five matches, but I realize that we are a team,” Poulter said. “That team is very, very, very strong this year and Ollie really wanted to kind of get everybody playing on Friday. So four guys have got to change from the morning round, and that’s obviously going to be difficult.”
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284.