Davis Love became the first Ryder Cup skipper in history to bench Tiger Woods when he left him out of this morning’s foursomes session.
But he wasn’t the captain under pressure after the opening day of the 39th Ryder Cup as his 12 charges raced into a 5-3 lead that could easily have been 6-2 had it not been for the brilliance of European rookie Nicolas Colsaerts.
The pressure is now on Jose Maria Olazabal to raise the spirits of his squad after they were bulldozed 3-1 in the afternoon fourballs by an American outfit that putted the lights out.
Despite resting Ian Poulter and Luke Donald and dropping Sergio Garcia for the betterball matches, the Spaniard watched as his line up was totally outplayed in the Illinois sunshine with Keegan Bradley the star of the show alongside left-hander Phil Mickelson.
Olazabal said: “Obviously we are going to have our players’ meeting tonight after the boys have rested and have dinner. We will address what happened today. And, you know, I’m going to make it clear to the boys that they need to step it up. They need to play better golf; simple as that.
“There are no secrets about this game. You have to make more birdies than your opponent. And if you don’t do that, you’re going to struggle.”
Beaten in the top three fourballs in the afternoon, Europe gleaned a point from the final match with Nicolas Colsaerts outstanding as he made an eagle and eight birdies alongside Lee Westwood to edge out Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker 1 up.
From a potential 4-0 whitewash that would have left them 6-2 down, Europe emerged just 5-3 behind with 20 points still up for grabs.
The importance of the Colsaerts-Westwood win was certainly not lost on vice-captain Paul McGinley.
“Who said rookies were weaknesses?” McGinley told BBC Five Live. “That’s a phenomenal performance. That was psychologically massive that we won that game and avoided a whitewash.
“We said if we could get away from the session at only 3-1, the way we played, we’d be delighted and that’s what happened.
“It’s important not to panic, it’s only one session and it’s not the end of the day by any stretch of the imagination.”
Olazabal was disappointed in the performances of some of his star players in the foursomes with Garcia paying the price.
Asked if McDowell’s participation alongside McIlroy in the fourballs was premeditated, he paused for quite some time, smiled and said: “Maybe not.”
Asked why he changed his mind, he said: “Well, some of the players didn’t play all that well this morning, and I thought, you know, he would have been a good pairing for Rory. They have been a formidable pairing the last few times and that’s the reason behind it. Simple as that.”
Assessing the day, he said: “Well, obviously not the day we were expecting, especially in the afternoon. I think we did okay in the morning session. Foursomes is not an easy format, and to go 2-2, I think we were pretty happy about it.
“In the afternoon session, you know, things didn’t go our way. I think we faced two really hot pairings the first two matches. Bubba and Webb played extraordinary well. I think they were like 10 under par if I’m not mistaken.
“And then in the second group, I think Keegan was really hot today. He was full of confidence. He played extraordinary golf. And, well, we lost those two matches and made the afternoon session a little bit difficult for us.
“Regarding, well, the last match, I would like to mention that Nicolas I think did something really special today.
“If the information that I got was correct, I think it’s been the best scoring for a rookie in the history of The Ryder Cup. So it was quite an impressive performance, and it was a huge point for us.
“The way the session went, losing the first three matches, to win that last point, it made a big difference for the afternoon.
“And for tomorrow, well, again, we are going to have the first two matches are going to be really tough. We have, again, Webb and Bubba, and Keegan and Phil in those first two matches. I’ve tried to, you know, put all the guns for tomorrow morning.
“We do have to, you know, change the momentum. We need to have a great day tomorrow, both morning and afternoon sessions. And that’s what we are aiming for.”
As for reports that some of the European team wives and girlfriends were abused and heckled by spectators on the 18th, Olazabal said: “That’s the first information that I’ve got [on that]. I saw the crowds went across the ropes and got running very much to the edge of the green.
“I don’t know if that was expected or not, but I would have to talk to the wives and ladies of the team if that was the case. But I have not I don’t have that information with me.”
Love was understandbly pleased with his teams position but he played down the decision to drop Woods, explaining that it was never his plan to have players play all five sessions.
“We just don’t want guys to be worn out,” Love said. “We need Tiger and Steve in the afternoon. We need Tiger and Steve on Sunday.
“There was a reason we sat Webb and Bubba out this morning. It was so they would be ready for the afternoon. I didn’t know they were going to be that ready, but we sat them out because, really, there’s so much that goes into this week, and we as players see it.
“I saw it Monday night and Tuesday night. Our guys were out of the team room and in bed. They knew what was coming and they needed to be rested.
“The first thing when they asked me when we get done playing or practicing is, when can we go home; they wanted to know as soon as they got finished today, when can we go rest, because it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.
“I think Tiger needs a rest; Steve needs a rest; I need a rest; and you know, it’s a team effort, and Tiger and Steve are very supportive friends of mine. They told me they would do whatever I asked them to do, and I can guarantee you, neither one of them are very happy about it.
“Not because they are sitting out; because they have to wait till tomorrow afternoon to come back from you know, they didn’t play great this morning, but they were in it for a while.
“This afternoon, I told them, they would have beat anybody on the golf course probably except for Bubba and Webb, and they just ran up against the wrong group.”
Love added: “I think everybody’s happy with where we’re going, because we had a very good day today. We want to have a very good day tomorrow. It’s not about Tiger, Steve, you know, or Bubba or Webb. It’s about this team trying to win and I think we are all excited about the day we had today, and rest up and go try to have another one tomorrow.”
13:20 Webb Simpson and Bubba Watson v Justin Rose and Ian Poulter
13:35 Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson v Lee Westwood and Luke Donald
13:50 Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson v Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia
14:05 Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker v Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell