NEWPORT, Wales — Only in the Ryder Cup can so little golf produce so much drama.
More than 11 hours after these high-charged matches began in a steady rain at Celtic Manor, they ended in darkness with Ian Poulter making a 20-foot birdie putt to square his fourballs match against Tiger Woods on a green illuminated by a large video board.
One problem: They were only on the 10th hole.
None of the four matches in the opening session finished. Captains never even turned in the lineup for the four alternate-shot matches scheduled for the afternoon.
The rain did more than suspend play for more than seven hours. It exposed a wardrobe malfunction with the Americans’ rain suits, and forced an unprecedented schedule change with the hope — or maybe it’s a prayer — that the Ryder Cup will have a winner by Sunday. That means everyone will be playing the rest of the way until one teams hoists the cup.
Ultimately, no one put a single point on the board Friday.
“We were supposed to play for eight points today,” European captain Colin Montgomerie said. “And we didn’t play for one.”
The Americans at least felt as though they had some momentum.
Trailing in three of the four matches when play was halted, Woods made a clutch par to keep from falling two holes down, and he and Steve Stricker won consecutive holes for their first lead until Poulter made his birdie in the dark.
Stewart Cink, the guy U.S. captain Corey Pavin forgot to introduce at the opening ceremony, was impossible to miss on the golf course by making one big putt after another. He and Matt Kuchar took a 2-up lead over U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy through 11 holes.
The American rookies were just as relentless. Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton won the first two holes with birdies before the rain, and they were 1-up on Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington. The Americans already have a birdie on the par-5 ninth hole, and Donald will have a chance to halve the hole with a 6-foot putt when they return Saturday.
Europe was leading only in the first match, with Lee Westwood and PGA champion Martin Kaymer 1 up through 12 holes over Masters champion Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson. Europe was 3 up through six holes when Mickelson led a rally.
Ultimately, the rain-soaked and mud-splattered fans saw only four hours of golf, some of it quite sloppy given the conditions. Woods took four shots to reach the first green. Europe won that hole with a par when Ross Fisher’s tee shot was lodged in the lining of a fan’s umbrella. He was given a free drop and was able to hit onto the green.
Volunteers armed with squeegees were constantly mopping up large puddles across the landing area in the fairways and on every green, until they could no longer keep up with all the water.
The entertainment didn’t let up even when the golf was suspended. If nothing else, it gave the U.S. team time to do a little shopping in the merchandise tent in yet another embarrassing moment.
The Americans looked soaked in their navy blue rain suits with white stripes, and there was a reason for that — they didn’t work. Pavin never explained why it took until Friday at the Ryder Cup to figure this out, or what specifically was wrong with them.
“My suit was fine. I had no problems — but I wasn’t playing,” Pavin said. “They just didn’t perform the way they were supposed to perform, and so we just went out and bought some more, simple as that.”
Team officials bought 20 suits from the same company that outfitted a dry-looking European team — although they weren’t even necessary when play eventually resumed.
Woods’ match was approaching the sixth green when Pavin huddled with PGA of America officials to agree on the schedule change.
Once the fourballs matches are completed Saturday morning, the next session will be six alternate-shot matches, followed by a third session of six more matches — two alternate-shot and four better-ball matches. Ideally, those would be wrapped up Sunday morning in time for the decisive 12 singles matches.
Rain is forecast over the weekend, and this could be the first Monday finish in Ryder Cup history. Until then, everyone will be playing until one team hoists the cup. That includes Westwood, in his first competition in six weeks because of a calf injury.
“Well, if they’re not fit, they shouldn’t be here,” Montgomerie said. “And they’re fit, so they are here.”
Montgomerie saved his sympathy for some 45,000 fans, who went from singing and chanting and waving flags in the morning to waiting about seven hours during a delay that seemed would never end. Enough of them returned to line every fairway and fill every grandstand where matches were played.
“They pay a lot of money, and unfortunately, the appalling weather conditions out there today made it very tough for them,” Montgomerie said. “I hope they saw some great golf later on in the day.”
Montgomerie saw enough, especially at the end from Poulter.
Confident as ever, making eye contact with the fans as he stepped on every tee, Poulter made a 30-foot birdie on the third hole to give Europe the lead. Just as Woods and Stricker tag-teamed their way into the lead, the Englishman delivered again on the par-3 10th.
Montgomerie said Poulter considered waiting until Saturday morning to putt.
“He thought, ‘OK, I’ll do this and give the team momentum if I hole it, give the team momentum going into the next day.’ And he definitely did that,” Montgomerie said. “What a roar went up when the putt went in! Fantastic effort. That will give us momentum we need to carry forward into a very, very busy day tomorrow.”
First, the teams have to finish the opening set of matches. Regarding his match, Woods referred to it as an eight-hole “boat race.” Considering the kind of day, it was a good choice of words.
NOTEBOOK: Those 45,000 fans who paid for eight matches and didn’t get to see any of them completed will not be getting their money back.
How about another tournament at Celtic Manner next year?
The host club said there is no provision at the Ryder Cup for refunds because of inclement weather, but it encouraged fans to keep their Friday tickets pending an announcement “regarding ticket opportunities on European Tour competitions in 2011.”
It’s not surprising that no refund is forthcoming. Tickets costs a minimum of about $160 each day, which means one day of sales generates more than $7 million in revenues.
The players were appreciative of those who came out in the morning, creating a stirring atmosphere around the first tee even in a steady rain, and those who stayed around to watch a few more holes late in the afternoon after a delay of more than seven hours.
“It was amazing,” England’s Luke Donald said. “If I was in that situation, I’m not sure what I would do. But we have loyal fans and it’s a big part of Europe’s success.”
As for giving those fans some financial consideration, Celtic Manor said it would make an announcement on www.rydercup.com at the end of the event.