ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The opening day of the 31st Ryder Cup started out wet and wild yesterday at Oak Hill Country Club. After nearly 12 hours of often sloshy golf, it also turned out to be a bright day for U.S. hopes in this biennial classic.
The Americans survived torrential rains in the morning round of alternate-shot play, as well as an afternoon chill during best-ball competition, to take a 5-3 lead over the Europeans going into the second day of the three-day event.
Behind a remarkable performance by its Ryder Cup rookies, and some spectacular moments from veterans Corey Pavin and Davis Love III, the United States took a significant step toward winning the competition for the third straight time.
"Obviously, I feel like our guys had a pretty good day," said Lanny Wadkins, who did a deft job mixing his team's lineups in his debut as the U.S. squad's nonplaying captain. "But at the same time, this is Day 1. Nobody awards trophies for being the first-round leader."
It was the best start by a U.S. team since a 5 1/2 -2 1/2 opening-day lead in 1979 at The Greenbrier, and was only the second time since then that the Europeans have trailed after the first day. In 1991, at Kiawah Island, S.C., the United States led 4 1/2 -3 1/2 . Both resulted in U.S. wins.
At least for the day, the Americans also silenced those who believed they were too inexperienced and lacked the necessary fire. The five players appearing in their first Ryder Cup combined for a 5-1 record, with Jeff Maggert sharing in two victories and Tom Lehman partnering Pavin in the day's most dramatic match.
It was Lehman's and Pavin's 1-up victory in the morning over Europe's strongest team, Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, that seemed to set an aggressive tone for their team. Lehman and Pavin squandered an early 4-up lead, but made some clutch shots down the stretch; the last was a four-foot par putt on the 18th hole to win.
"I knew it was a very big putt," said Lehman. "It's the kind of putt that you'd never miss if you were just out playing golf alone and just kicking it around because it was such an easy putt. But with the match riding on it, the hole gets to looking a little bit smaller."
Said Wadkins: "It would have been easy for them to fold. That was a huge win for us. That set the tone for the whole day."
Lehman might have done that all by himself. On the second hole of the day's first match, he and Faldo had a brief confrontation on the green. It happened after Faldo had not answered Lehman's question about whether the Europeans were conceding a short putt.
"What did you say?" Lehman asked.
Faldo mumbled again, then made a gesture of exasperation at Lehman.
"Well, speak clearly the next time," Lehman shot back.
Later, Lehman said, "I wasn't going to take any crap from him."
It was a frustrating day for Faldo and Montgomerie. They fell behind early and by a substantial margin in both of their matches. They were 4-down after five holes in the morning, and 4-down after six holes to Love and Fred Couples in what turned out to be a 3-and-2 defeat in the afternoon. They won only four of their first 30 holes and five of their first 34.
Not far behind on the Europeans' list of problems was the lackluster play of Seve Ballesteros, who after sitting out the morning matches barely contributed to his and David Gilford's lone European victory in the afternoon.
"I was his caddie; I was a good caddie," Ballesteros joked. Gilford made three birdies and was the major factor in five of the six holes that his team won.
It was also a tough day for European captain Bernard Gallacher. He found himself a bit under siege at his post-round news conference, defending his decision to keep three of the four morning pairs together for the afternoon.
He also said he made a mistake in not playing Ian Woosnam. The former Masters champion was the only member of either team not to play yesterday.
"I was happy with the morning foursomes, but it was Lanny's afternoon," said Gallacher, who will keep Faldo and Montgomerie together for this morning's foursome matches. "We'll get another chance tomorrow."
So will Peter Jacobsen. About the only costly mistake a U.S. golfer made was when Jacobsen picked up his ball on the seventh green during an afternoon match after thinking partner Brad Faxon had a short putt for par.
Jacobsen had not seen an earlier shot by Faxon go into the water, and also had played his own chip too aggressively. Tied with Ballesteros and Gilford at the time, they didn't win another hole in a 4-and-3 defeat.
"I walked up on the eighth green and asked if he'd like to take a mathematician with him the rest of the way," Wadkins said in his typically biting humor.
It didn't take a math whiz to tally up the United States' first-day lead, but the Americans enjoyed doing it.