NEWPORT, Wales (AP) — Boy, did that rain delay work out just fine for the Americans. They were able to get dry, do some shopping at the merchandise tent and claim the momentum on a water-logged day at the Ryder Cup.
The U.S. team rallied for a narrow lead by the end of play Friday, clearly the biggest beneficiary of the Cup’s first weather suspension since 1997. Phil Mickelson got going, Stewart Cink kept rolling in long putts and the rookie team of Bubba Watson and Jeff Overton held its own.
The Americans were down in three fourball matches and leading only one when drenching showers halted play at midmorning. Celtic Manor spent more than $1 million on a complex drainage system, but it was no match for showers that turned the course into a version of Venice, impromptu canals popping up all over the place.
The start was bad enough. Even worse were the rainsuits worn by the Americans, a gaudy getup that looked more suited for basketball team warmups — and didn’t work anyway. During the break, the PGA of America dispatched officials to the merchandise tent to buy up about 20 new suits in case it starts raining again this weekend, always a possibility in soggy Wales.
But the clouds finally broke late in the day and the U.S. team was feeling a lot sunnier about the way things stood: Cink and Matt Kuchar were 2 up on Rory McIlroy and U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell through 11 holes; Watson and Overton were 1 up on Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington through eight; and Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker were all square with Ian Poulter and Ross Fisher.
The only Americans trailing were Mickelson and Dustin Johnson, but even they left the course with a good feeling.
They lost three of the first six holes, with Lefty dumping his first shot after the break into a pond. But Johnson bailed him out with a birdie at the seventh, and Mickelson ripped off three birdies in a row around the turn to leave Lee Westwood and PGA championship winner Martin Kaymer only 1 up through 11 holes.
“It was tough day, a tough start,” American captain Corey Pavin said. “Obviously I’m pleased with the way U.S. came back and performed this afternoon. I’m very proud of the guys.”
His European counterpart, Colin Montgomerie, took heart from Poulter rolling in a clutch 15-foot putt at the 10th just before the last light faded away, giving the home team a bit of a boost. The Englishman turned toward what was left of the gallery and pumped his fist defiantly.
“We had a good first hour of play or something, and then that two hours of play there was obviously in the Americans’ favor,” Monty said. “But at the same time, there’s no match that is anymore than 2 up or 2 down, so everyone is still in the game.”
With no match settled on a day when eight points were supposed to be handed out, this will be remembered as the day it rained and rained and rained at the first Ryder Cup held in Wales.
Workers scurried around the greens with squeegees, furiously pushing away water before every putt. Players sloshed down soaked fairways, desperately searching for any spot to hit that was somewhat dry. But Celtic Manor was a water-logged mess, finally forcing officials to halt play at midmorning.
“The first thing I need is to find a hair dryer,” Kaymer joked.
The long delay made the first Monday finish in Cup history seem certain — until a drastic change in the schedule provided hope of getting in all 18 matches by nightfall Sunday.
After the opening fourball matches are completed Saturday morning, there will be six alternate-shot matches in the second session — meaning all 24 players will be used at one time. Same for the third session, which will be composed of two alternate-shot matches and the last four matches of fourball.
The third session will surely carry over to Sunday morning. Officials hope they’ll still have enough time that afternoon to get in the 12 singles.
If not, they’ll finish Monday.
“We are going to (try to) finish on time on Sunday, which would be an amazing feat to get 28 matches in, considering that we lost seven hours and 18 minutes out there,” Montgomerie said. “Monday finishes are no good in any sport.”
Cink was carrying his team with five birdies — including a 30-footer at the seventh. Kuchar hadn’t done much of anything, but the Americans were still up on the heralded Northern Irish duo of McDowell and McIlroy.
But the Watson-Overton pairing was perhaps the biggest surprise. The duo made birdies at the first two holes and was still up on the much more accomplished team of Donald and Harrington, assured of making the turn with no worse than a 1-up lead.
Overton nearly holed out from the fairway with his final shot of the day, and the Europeans conceded his birdie at No. 9. Donald decided to return Saturday morning for a putt that could halve the hole.
“I knew I had to stick it close,” Overton said. “I hit a perfect shot, about a foot from going in.”
Woods, playing in the third slot instead of his traditional leadoff or anchor roles, played steady if not spectacular alongside Stricker. They grabbed their first lead with Woods’ birdie at the par-5 ninth, where his pitched from about 40 feet rolled up to within 2 feet of the cup. But Poulter’s putt at the next hole squared the match.
During the rain delay, the Americans retreated to the clubhouse, eager to get out of their soaked clothing.
Pavin had ordered supposedly waterproof suits of navy blue with white stripes that had “USA” and the players’ names on the back. They didn’t win any style points, and they didn’t keep out the water, either.
“We were disappointed with the performance of them, and we just fixed it,” Pavin said. “They were not doing what we wanted them to do, so we went out and bought some more waterproofs.”
PGA of America officials hustled over to the merchandise tent, where fans shop, to snatch up about 20 replacement suits on the picked-over shelves. The new suits, which only have a Ryder Cup logo without any special markings for the U.S. team, cost about $350 apiece.
The Europeans couldn’t resist poking a little fun at the Americans’ plight.
“Just have to say our waterproofs are performing very well!” McIlroy tweeted.
The Americans had the last laugh, though.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.