Battle royale in Walker Cup

Last updated at 16:31 08 September 2007


One of the leading lights of the Britain and Ireland Walker Cup side failed to shine on the opening day at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.

But holders United States were still not having things all their own way.

Scot Lloyd Saltman, winner of three out of four points in the one-point defeat in Chicago two years ago and a brilliant 15th in that summer's Open at St Andrews, suffered two defeats.

After struggling with Welshman Rhys Davies in the foursomes the 24-year-old was then crushed five and four by Rickie Fowler, his suffering complete when he had a nightmare shank into a gorse bush with a chip at the long 12th.

But the spirits of the 10,000 crowd were raised when local hero Rory McIlroy, the 18-year-old who starred in July's Open at Carnoustie, came from two down to all square by taking the 15th and 16th holes against Billy Horschel.

The home team were desperate for others to rise to the occasion.

That they did, with the morning action being shared 2-2 and then Davies, Nigel Edwards, Llewellyn Matthews, Jamie Moul and David Horsey all taking early leads after lunch to keep alive the prospect of another exciting climax.

The last two matches have both gone to the last green of the last game, Edwards being the hero at Ganton in 2003 but then missing the 25-foot putt that would have denied the States again last time.

That the teams ended the first session on level terms was thanks to an amazing 35-yard eagle putt by American Webb Simpson.

The religion student's partner Jonathan Moore had just made a 25-footer to stay alive on the 17th and opponents Moul and Danny Willett, having been three up after 14 and two up with two to play, could simply not believe what followed.

Short of the green in two at the long last Simpson took out his putter and knocked it in, a blow which Willett could not respond to from the left rough.

After shaking hands on a half that must have felt like a loss given the position they had been in Moul commented: "Eagle up the last - you can't do anything about that.

"We kept our noses in front most of the way and it's a little disappointing, but we'll try and make up for it this afternoon."

Two of the other three games had had dramatic finishes too, but not the top game where Saltman and Davies were an approximate seven over par in losing four and three to Horschel and Fowler.

"There was no real spark from either of us," admitted Saltman.

They three-putted the 13th from only 15 feet after Fowler had made a 25-footer and three-putted again two holes later.

The Americans looked set to go 2-0 ahead when a chip from over the final green by Johnson hit the flag at speed and stopped only four feet away.

He and American champion Colt Knost were two up on McIlroy and his compatriot Jonny Caldwell after 15, but after Caldwell holed from 12 feet for birdie to take the next and from seven feet for par on the last Knost missed and had to settle for a half.

McIlroy said: "I think it was the right result in the end - they were pretty lucky with their pitch.

"The crowd were absolutely fantastic and we wanted to give them something to cheer about."

The home winners in the session were English duo John Parry and Horsey.

They twice trailed early on, but turned it round to beat the experienced Trip Kuehne and Kyle Stanley two and one, with Parry wrapping things up with a wedge to within a foot of the flag on the 435-yard 17th for a conceded birdie.

"I was actually aiming a bit left of the flag and just hit it hard," admitted the Harrogate golfer.

America are the holders, but they are also the underdogs. They have lost three of the last four clashes and last won away from home at Portmarnock in 1991 - when Phil Mickelson was a member of their side.

Each of the two days' play consists of four foursomes and eight singles, with 12 and a half points required for victory.

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