SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES   -  Ryder Cup veterans Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter starred as Europe claimed a history-making foursomes whitewash in a stunning fightback to seize a 5-3 lead over the United States on Friday. Trailing by two points after the opening-morning fourballs at Le Golf National, home captain Thomas Bjorn brought wildcard picks Poulter, Garcia and Henrik Stenson into the action and the decision paid off in style.

Europe roared back at the Americans to the delight of raucous crowds at the first Ryder Cup to be played in France. "It's hard to say it's not right at the top as a session, but then you've got to look at the other way and say this morning's session wasn't at the top," said Dane Bjorn. "It is right at the top. When you clean-sweep, that is something that is pretty special to all those players that are out on that golf course."

US skipper Jim Furyk left out Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed after their defeat by Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood got Europe on the board, and his players totally lost the momentum they had built up earlier in the day. It was the first foursomes clean sweep for the hosts in Ryder Cup history, gaining revenge for the 4-0 foursomes defeat they suffered on the first day of the Americans' win at Hazeltine two years ago.

The States arrived at Le Golf National with a star-studded outfit featuring nine major champions as they look for a first win on European soil since 1993, but they were left shell-shocked after falling apart on the picturesque Albatros course. Stenson and Justin Rose reprised their successful partnership of Ryder Cups gone by to see off Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson 3 and 2, while Garcia teamed up with Swedish rookie Alex Noren to crush Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau 5 and 4.

The experienced duo of Poulter and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy battled back from 2-down to beat Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson 4 and 2. Molinari and Fleetwood grabbed their second win of the day with a 5 and 4 thumping of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, as all the American pairings finished their rounds over par. All four matches saw dominant triumphs for Europe, and finished within an hour of each other.

FedEx Cup winner Rose -- who had slumped to defeat by Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau earlier in the day alongside Jon Rahm -- put in a solid performance with Stenson which saw them storm 5-up after 11 holes and leave Johnson and Fowler with too much to do.

Rose and Stenson have now won five of seven Ryder Cup matches as a partnership. "Henrik and I have had great vibes in this event," said Englishman Rose. McIlroy had struggled badly in the fourballs, failing to make a birdie or win a hole as he and Danish debutant Thorbjorn Olesen lost to Johnson and Fowler.

But, despite taking a two-hole advantage after three, Simpson and Watson reeled off five bogeys in just six holes to throw the match away. The talismanic Poulter all but ended the encounter as a contest with a dead-eyed birdie putt on the 13th, after an incredible recovery shot from McIlroy out of thick rough.

"It's been a long time since I played a Ryder Cup," said Poulter, who was a vice-captain in the loss at Hazeltine in 2016. "Four years is a long wait but the second I got going this morning, I felt good."

Simpson admitted the 13th was a turning point, saying: "The 13th hole was kind of the flipped hole. We thought we were going to get one there. It's the way it goes."

The 38-year-old Garcia had been a controversial pick by Bjorn after a poor season, but he and Noren raced into a 7-up lead over the misfiring Mickelson and DeChambeau on the front nine. Former Masters champion Garcia has won 23.5 points since making his Ryder Cup debut as a teenager in 1999, and needs just two more to pass all-time record-holder Nick Faldo's mark of 25, but he was quick to praise Noren's performance in his first Ryder Cup match.

"I think Alex was a rock," said the Spaniard. "I helped him a little bit here and there and it was great to get a point." Spieth and Thomas were magnificent in their thrilling 1-up fourballs win over Paul Casey and Tyrrell Hatton, but off-colour against the excellent Molinari and Fleetwood. British Open champion Molinari, as he did in the win over Woods and Reed, made the winning putt.

 

 

 

 

 

In-form Butt hopeful of making strong comeback

MOHSIN ALI

ISLAMABAD

Former Pakistan captain Salman Butt has said that he is hopeful that the justice will prevail and he will make a strong comeback after performing so well in the domestic cricket.

Talking to The Nation, Butt said: “I don’t know what I should do to win the backing of PCB and chief selectors. My performances for the last three seasons in domestic cricket is good enough to show my form and fitness, as I have scored a lot of runs and helped my department Wapda win Quaid-e-Azam Trophy. I am giving out my best and hoping for the best regarding my selection in the national team.”

He said that

He lamented that the PCB and selectors are completely ignoring him and also depriving Pakistan team of a seasoned opener, who could help resolve batting woes in the longer version especially in limited overs. “My performances in shorter version of the game is also no secret. I just want to know why I am being given such rough treatment. I had long accepted my mistake and sought mercy from the entire nation. If the PCB high ups have made up their mind of not letting me and M Asif play for the national team again, then they should clearly tell us.”

The former captain said that it is not a big secret that experience is far better than fitness. “There is absolutely no one denying the fact that skills are way ahead of fitness. Every top team whole-solely depend and rely on experience and even half fit players are given nod of approval over youngsters. I am not against inclusion of fresh blood in the national team, but there is a certain criterian.

“Look what went wrong, if you expose fresh players against even sides like Afghanistan and Bangladesh, the things will get from bad to worst. Look at last year’s Champions Trophy, Pakistan team only scored big runs in the final. Prior to that, they were chasing targets, which were very much within their grasp,” he added.

About Asia Cup, he said that the green caps were looking under pressure against arch-rivals. “There was no game plan and I feel the team selection was also a bit shaky and people had pinned a lot of hopes on batting, which resulted in panic and entire team was looking nervous and out of sorts. Even against Afghanistan, they were looking highly tensed and wanted things to happen for them, rather than giving their best.

“I guess they need to relax, try to implement game plan. If any top 6 batmen need to bat for 50 overs, it is not the job of all-rounders or tail-enders, but it is middle order, which must have taken responsibility. The selectors had given too much priority to Pakistan Super League (PSL) based performances and picked almost all the players from shorter version of the game, which exposed badly.

“The first-class performers like me are completely ignored. The shorter format performances can’t produce results in 50 overs game. They don’t know how to build innings, one or two innings give them 4 to 5 matches. For the last few months, we had played against minnows, so until and unless we play against top sides, our cricket is not going to improve,” he added.

Butt said that everybody is aware that in Dubai, the teams scored extraordinary runs in one or two matches while in rest of the matches, after pitch is used, runs start to decrease and teams scored 240 to 250 while their opponents struggled to chase the totals. The condition must be utilized well, like Shoaib Malik, who played wonderful innings, one or two bowlers can’t win matches on regular basis.

The former captain said that the match winners must be given nod of approval. “If finally given opportunity to me, I won’t disappoint the team and nation and will give my 100 percent. I am working very hard, taking my cricket seriously and really want to help green caps. I want justice and if I am performing, it is my right to play for Pakistan,” Butt concluded.