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Europeans off to great start - lead 2.5-1.5

Day One Features
Europeans dominate day one - lead 6-2
Europeans off to great start - lead 2.5-1.5

Colin Montgomerie and Paul Lawrie won the first match and Sergio Garcia won his first pairing with Tiger Woods today as Europe got off to a fast start in its defense of the Ryder Cup.

Garcia gave the European team its second point when he and Jesper Parnevik teamed to beat Woods and Tom Lehman, helping Europe to a 2 1/2-1 1/2 lead after the four morning alternate shot matches.

The United States needs 14 1/2 points to regain the cup from Europe, which has won the last two competitions. Europe can keep the cup if it gets 14 points or better.

Today's lead could have been even bigger, but Davis Love III made a crucial putt on the 17th hole and Padraig Harrington missed a 7-footer on the 18th. Love and Payne Stewart split their match with Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

"Alternate shot is their game, they love to play it," American captain Ben Crenshaw said of the Europeans. "But this is just the first round."

In afternoon play, Woods was teamed with David Duval in a pairing of the world's top two players in best ball against Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

The performance by Montgomerie and Lawrie helped silence the crowds of more than 30,000 that crowded the greens and fairways of The Country Club, one of the nation's most historic clubs.

"The Ryder Cup brings the best out in me, and I'm glad it does," Montgomerie said.

With the playing conditions perfect, Montgomerie and Lawrie won the first match 3 and 2, clinching it on the 16th hole when Montgomerie hit an iron within 10 feet.

Parnevik and Garcia quickly followed with a 2 and 1 win over Woods and Lehman, who excited the crowd by chipping in on the first hole but struggled the rest of the way.

"We just never made putts and we didn't hit it close," Lehman said.

A 5-footer by Mickelson that spun out of the hole on No. 10 put the pairing of Scots ahead for good, and another bogey by the Americans two holes later extended the lead.

Montgomerie and Lawrie, meanwhile, played solidly, shooting a 2-under 33 on the front and playing the back side with all pars and a birdie on No. 14 that gave them a 3-up lead.

"I don't think we played poorly," Duval said. "It didn't seem like it should have been a 3 and 2 match."

The alternate shot format provided plenty of drama as players traded shots and teams traded leads among huge galleries lining the fairways.

At one point, the United States led three and was behind in one. But, by the time the four foursomes had made the turn and headed into the back nine, the matches stood 2-1-1 in the U.S. favor and no team had more than a 1-up lead.

The quickest turnaround came in Jeff Maggert and Hal Sutton's match with Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke. Trailing by two holes through five, Maggert and Sutton birdied the next three holes to take a 1-up lead.

They ended up closing Westwood and Clarke out 3 and 2 when Sutton hit it within 3 feet and Maggert made the putt for a birdie 2.

Lehman's wedge out of the rough took three bounces and dropped into the hole, prompting a roar from the crowd. Lehman pumped his fist, and he Woods, his playing partner, slapped raised hands.

It wasn't the only spectacular shot of the morning. Maggert almost holed a 3-iron on the par-3 seventh hole, while Parnevik's iron to the same green set up a birdie to pull his team even.

Garcia's debut in Ryder Cup play matched him against Woods, and he more than held his own in the featured match of the opening day.

The four morning matches featured alternate shot play, with four afternoon matches playing best ball.

Crenshaw shepherded his players to the first tee in the early morning, putting an arm around Mickelson and offering him some final advice as Mickelson and Duval teed off in the opening foursome.

"The guys are sky high and can't wait," Crenshaw said.

The competition is being played at the same course where in 1913 former caddie Francis Ouimet won the U.S. Open and was credited with triggering a golf boom in the United States.

Two years ago, a young rookie of immense talent was supposed to help a U.S. team reclaim the Ryder Cup at Valderrama in Spain.

Woods went 1-3-1 instead, finding out that playing for national pride isn't the same as playing for cash.

This time, the new phenom is on the other side. And how Garcia handles the pressure of his first Ryder Cup might be a key to whether the Europeans can retain the cup.

Garcia is one of seven Ryder Cup rookies on the European team, which has lost the cup to the Americans only twice in the last seven competitions.

By contrast, Duval is the only rookie on the American team -- and he's the No. 2 player in the world. However, he has been on two President's Cup teams. One was a winning effort, the other ended in a loss.

Olazabal was left out of the first morning's matches after telling European captain Mark James that his game wasn't good enough for the alternate shot format.

It was the first time in six Ryder Cups that Olazabal has missed a match, but he was paired with Jiminez in an afternoon match against Sutton and Maggert.