Ian Poulter set to drown out Ryder Cup schmaltz from US TV
The end of schmaltz is nigh. The relentless packaging of golf as a great American parable, a bastion of protocols and manners, is about to run into an Ian Poulter fist-pump.
The American viewer would be hard pressed to tell the Ryder Cup apart from an episode of Downton Abbey such is the coded emphasis on values and deportment, topped by an Omega TV ad that features Davis Love III reading portentously from his own book about his dreams of one day becoming captain of the Ryder Cup team. Ahhh.
The civilising qualities of golf are among its greatest features but somehow in this setting the game has been given a cupcake makeover it does not need, culminating in an opening ceremony that puts at risk the sincerity it seeks to promote. So it is with some relief this morning that the violins fall silent, the ribbons are removed and the golf is thrust to the fore in all its visceral glory.
This contest needs no embellishing. It writes its own narrative. Over the next three days, Medinah will be wrenched from its country club reserve and given over to the mob. The Chicago crowd are said to bring their own raucous charm. They would not want to run into Poulter on the rampage. "It's passion like I've never seen before. I love it. I love that chance to go out there and beat them. It's going to be vocal, it's going to be intimidating, but it's going to be brilliant. I wouldn't want to be in any other situation this week."
Poulter's commentary jarred beautifully with the fairytale rhetoric enveloping the occasion. His "I want to kill 'em" remark set proceedings on a primal plane. We know what he meant. Brandt Snedeker, fast emerging as a threat to Bubba Watson as personality No 1 on the American team, was not far behind Poulter's blood red speech. "I'm very competitive. People don't get that because I'm polite but when I tee it up on Friday here against anybody, I'm trying to beat their brains in as bad as I can." Don't take that literally, folks.
The course has been mowed to within an inch of its verdant life, with the rough a minimalist feature. Any shots off line will be coming out of trees or sand and, on the back nine, there are a number of striking elevation changes that might offer some respite from the birdie-fest anticipated. Inevitably, this being America, water is central to the layout. In this case, Lake Kadijah provides the shimmering backdrop to three of the four par-3s.
Medinah is typical of the ilk, a vast floral tapestry laid out across rolling acres in the outer suburbs of a great American city. It represents the expansive thinking of a nation growing into the status of dominant world power after the decline of the British Empire following the Great War. America was in the ascendency, a muscular economic powerhouse driving the global economy. The country club is the American equivalent of the gentleman's club, a place where the rich retreated to take the sharp edges off the working week as well as the air. Medinah is the dream home of the freemasons of Chicago circa 1928.
Sergio Garcia prefers it as it was when he encountered it for the first time in 1999, chasing Tiger Woods home at the PGA Championship. Garcia was the Rory McIlroy of the day, an irreverent force of nature from Europe with a game to make the great Woods blink. Tiger did not take kindly to the intrusion and ultimately brought his big paw down, but not before Garcia had given the tournament its lasting memory. The tree around which he carved his approach on to the green at the 16th has gone, but the spring in Garcia's step that followed the ball down the fairway is happily returning.
Two years ago, Garcia was a peripheral figure. The light was going from his game when he pitched up as a late invitee to the vice-captain's role in Colin Montgomerie's team room. It took him 12 months after that to piece together a first victory on the European tour since 2008 and this year he broke a four-year hiatus on the PGA tour with his win at the Wyndham Championship last month. A fully restored Garcia we might never see again but at 32 he has recovered enough of his love of the game to give Europe real hope this week.
Garcia went out with Martin Kaymer yesterday as Jose-Maria Olazabal juggled his options in the final practice session. The pair were ranged against McIlroy and Justin Rose. Elsewhere, Nicolas Colsaerts and Peter Hanson walked out together against Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood and in the last group Luke Donald and Graeme McDowell took on Francesco Molinari and Poulter. None of this had much relevance to this morning's 7.20am start. The skipper had settled on his opening pairing before he arrived.
"The boys are playing well," Olazabal said. "I do have a pretty good idea of what I want on Friday morning but I'm not going to share that if that's okay with you. Everybody is ready. We are all eager to see that first match on that first tee. The sooner you get to that point the more excitement you feel, the more pressure, the more tension. The crowds are starting to drop a few 'USAs' and stuff like that. Friday morning is going to be amazing. It's going to be loud. That's the beauty of this event. That's why this event is what it is."
The first inkling of that came late on Wednesday afternoon as the organisers were laying out the seating for the opening ceremony and checking the PA system was in order at the northern end of the club house. At the other side of this vast palazzo, Tiger Woods was just completing nine holes, walking off the 18th in a group that included Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker. They were mere attendants in the great Woods pageant that continues to fixate American audiences.
Woods eased towards the crossing point to the bridge that traverses the putting green signing balls and hats as he walked. Shouts of "Tiger, Tiger" fed into chants of "USA, USA". It was ever thus. The scene was observed by Westwood, who was going through his routines on the putting green watched by his trainer Steve McGregor and caddie Mike Kerr. Westwood looked up briefly, winked at McGregor, and resumed his crouched posture.
Woods and Westwood made their Ryder Cup debuts together in 1997 and apart from 2008, which Woods missed through injury, the preamble has been Tiger-dominated one way or another. Here he is pitched in the imagination against McIlroy, an absurdity which the Ryder Cup will only escape once a ball is hit. As McIlroy said, he is only one of 12. Even if they were to meet, the outcome yields only one point. Europe need 14 to hold on to the trophy they won so dramatically at Celtic Manor. For that to happen, Europe need a dozen heroes, a point reflected in Westwood's furtive gesture. The wink was a symbol of readiness, his and his team's.
Ryder roster: Opening day details
Today's tee-off times [BST]
Foursomes: 1.20pm Jim Furyk & Brandt Snedeker v Rory McIlroy & Graeme McDowell
1.35pm Phil Mickelson & Keegan Bradley v Luke Donald & Sergio Garcia
1.50pm Zach Johnson & Jason Dufner v Lee Westwood & Francesco Molinari
2.05pm Steve Stricker & Tiger Woods v Ian Poulter & Justin Rose
Odds To lift Cup: USA 11-10 Europe 7-10. Day One winner: USA 10-11 Tie 5-1 Europe 11-8
TV Sky Sports 1, 12.30pm-12.30am Highlights: BBC2, 12-2.05am [Sat]
Dry and overcast.
Maximum temp: 17C.
TV Sky Sports 1, 12.30pm-12.30am Highlights: BBC2, 12-2am [Sun]
Warm and sunny Maximum temp: 19C.
TV Sky Sports 1, 4pm-12.30am Highlights: BBC1, 11.05pm-1.05am
Warm and sunny. Maximum temp: 16C.
The format explained
Foursomes: Today from 1.20pm and tomorrow from 6.05pm: (BST)
Four matches of foursomes will be played both today and tomorrow. In foursomes, only one ball is used by each of the pairs. Players from one team take alternate shots. The team with the lowest score wins the hole and is awarded a point. The team with the most points at the end of the 18 holes wins. If the match is all square, each side receives half a point.
Total points up for grabs: 8
Fourballs: Today from 6.05pm and tomorrow from 1.20pm:
Four matches of fourballs will be played both today and tomorrow. Teams send out pairs of players against each other. There are four balls in play, one for each player. The player with the lowest score among those four wins the hole for his team.
Total points up for grabs: 8
Singles: Sunday from 5.03pm:
Played on Sunday, the final day. Everyone goes head-to-head in solo contests against a player from the opposing side.
Total points up for grabs: 12