SOTOGRANDE, SPAIN — SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- They took different roads to get there. The Americans used their entire 12-man roster. The Europeans changed one golfer from the morning four-ball to the afternoon foursomes.
In the end, they wound up in the same place yesterday after the first day of the 32nd Ryder Cup, dead even at three matches each and dead tired after a long adventure at the Valderrama Golf Club.
"It's been a long day," European captain Seve Ballesteros said. He was weary but certainly not disappointed by the way the competition turned out.
It began with a 100-minute delay brought on by a torrential morning storm that was the first rain the Costa del Sol has seen in three months and the first recorded September precipitation in a decade.
It ended with two matches left unfinished, the first time the opening day of the Ryder Cup hasn't been completed since 1993 at The Belfry. Europe was ahead in one suspended match, and the other was tied.
"Ain't the Ryder Cup neat?" American captain Tom Kite said. "The so-called experts who said that it was going to be a blowout one way or the other were wrong. The matches were close. That's the nature of the Ryder Cup."
It's also the nature of the Ryder Cup to have more than its share of gamesmanship, and this one has already. It came about as darkness set into the Andulusian hills with two tight matches still on the course. It involves a rule that a match can be called because of darkness if any of the four players involved decides to stop it.
One was called by American Jeff Maggert, with teammate Justin Leonard looking at a 25-foot birdie putt on the 16th green while England's Lee Westwood was staring at a 6-footer. Westwood and playing partner Nick Faldo led, 2 up. After Maggert said he didn't want to play anymore, Faldo walked away in disgust and the pro-European crowd booed lustily.
"After they hit their shots [to the green], he said to Justin walking up the fairway, 'I can barely see my ball,' " said Kite. "It was a crucial putt for us. We needed to make it. I don't need to have them second-guessing any of their reads. If the situation was reversed, I'm sure [the European team] would have have done the same thing."
Sweden's Jesper Parnevik had done nearly the same thing moments earlier while standing on the 13th tee. Playing with Spain's Ignacio Garrido, Parnevik decided that it would be better to come back this morning to finish their match against Tom Lehman and Phil Mickelson. Play will be resumed at 9 a.m. local time with their match even after 12 holes.
With Scott Hoch making a 4-foot putt for birdie that helped him and Lee Janzen beat Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal and Italy's Costantino Rocca 1-up, it left the teams as close as they've been after the first day since a 4-4 split at Kiawah Island, S.C., in 1991. It also left Ballesteros feeling satisfied.
"It's a very good day for us," he said. "I have to congratulate all my team. They've done a very good job."
At least three of his players might be excused for not sharing their captain's feelings. Ballesteros made only one change in his teams after the morning four-ball competition and kept all but one of the same players, Per-Ulrik Johansson. Ryder Cup veteran Ian Woosnam of Wales, as well as rookies Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland and Thomas Bjorn of Denmark, didn't play yesterday.
"This is the way I see the situation -- I said everyone will play at least one match before the singles," Ballesteros said. For the second straight day, though, he failed to tell his players who was going to be used, this time for the foursomes. "I will try to put together the most solid teams. I may change overnight, you never know," he said.
Another aspect of the Ryder Cup is for its heroes -- and goats -- to evolve. There were a few heroes yesterday.
There was Hoch, at age 41 the second-oldest rookie in this event who long has been beleaguered for blowing a 2 1/2 -foot putt to lose in sudden-death to Faldo at the 1989 Masters. His putt TTC helped Janzen and him avoid the possibility of twice blowing two-hole leads.
There was Faxon, who missed a significant putt for par on the final hole at Oak Hill in 1995 that helped the Europeans pull off one of the biggest upsets in the event's history. His 6-footer for par on the 18th enabled Faxon and Fred Couples to beat Faldo and Westwood in four-balls, 1-up.
And there was Parnevik, who two months ago missed several putts down the stretch in this year's British Open at Royal Troon to lose to Leonard. Parnevik made consecutive birdie putts on the last two holes in the morning to help give himself and countryman Johansson a 1-up victory over Lehman and Jim Furyk.
"It's still a little early to talk about redemption because a lot of things can still happen," Couples said.
Tiger Woods is hoping that something starts happening for him. After contributing two early birdies to jump-start himself and Mark O'Meara to a 3-and-2 victory over Scotland's Colin Montgomerie and Germany's Bernhard Langer in the morning, Woods didn't make a birdie putt and hit a number of errant shots in a 5-and-3 defeat to the same pair.
"I really had trouble with the rain coming down this morning because it really screwed up my feel for the greens," Woods said. "In the afternoon, we didn't hit the ball as well as we would have liked and we didn't make the putts. That's the key, and Colin turned his game around completely. I've got to give him credit for that, he played great."
Asked about the turnaround by Montgomerie and Langer, who after failing to make a birdie made five in the afternoon, Ballesteros shrugged and smiled. "That is the game of golf," he said. "Sometimes, there is no explanation."
And sometimes there is one. It is, after all, the Ryder Cup, where the strange and wonderful can happen, often in the same day. Especially one that doesn't seem to end.
When: Today and tomorrow.
Where: 6,819-yard, par-71, Valderrama Golf Club in Sotogrande, Spain.
Format: Four better-ball and four alternate-shot matches today; 12 singles matches tomorrow.
To win: Europeans, as holders of cup, need to score 14 points, the U.S. 14 1/2 .
TV: Today -- noon to 6 p.m, (chs. 11, 4); tomorrow -- 8: 30 a.m. to 12: 30 p.m., (chs. 11, 4).
Pub Date: 9/27/97