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Big Phil feeling huge pressure at Hazeltine

By Carl Markham

Published 01/10/2016

Testing: Phil Mickelson knows he wasn’t at his best when he and Rickie Fowler saw off Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan
Testing: Phil Mickelson knows he wasn’t at his best when he and Rickie Fowler saw off Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan

Veteran Phil Mickelson admits he felt under greater pressure at Hazeltine than in any of his previous 10 Ryder Cup appearances.

The left-hander, the United States' record appearance maker in the event, has been the most vocal about the need for change in light of America's recent performances as Europe chase an unprecedented fourth victory in a row.

His criticism after the defeat at Gleneagles two years ago led, in part, to the setting up of the US task force to look into all aspects of preparation and performance.

Mickelson has acted almost like the team's unofficial sixth vice-captain in the build-up and when called upon to partner Rickie Fowler in the morning foursomes at Hazeltine he was far from his best, but they managed to beat Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan one up.

"Certainly I felt more pressure heading into today's matches," said Mickelson, who was rested for the afternoon fourballs.

"Given the build-up over the last couple of years, the criticism, the comments, the pressure was as great or greater than I've ever felt.

"I could have copped out and asked to sit out but that would have been a totally weak move and I wanted to get out there. Put me out there. I enjoy that pressure.

"I played tight. This guy (Fowler) loosened me up. That's why I wanted him as my partner.

"He knows what to say and when to say it. He got some of my best golf out there in the end.

"Some of the iron shots down the stretch were due to things that he said to get me in the right frame of mind."

Meanwhile, Ryder Cup veteran Lee Westwood shouldered full responsibility for the dreadful 5&4 loss to America's Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar which saw the hosts take a 4-0 lead after the morning foursomes.

The Englishman, playing in his 10th successive event, was paired with rookie Thomas Pieters and was charged with helping the 24-year-old Belgian get round in his first outing.

However, despite a comforting arm around his partner's back on the first tee, there was little other support from the 43-year-old, who was one of captain Darren Clarke's picks in order to get some experience into a team which features six debutants.

"I will take responsibility. I played poorly and Thomas played well. He made some putts when we needed to," said Westwood, who is two points short of Sir Nick Faldo's all-time Ryder Cup record haul of 25 points.

"You try to put a bit of pressure on, you don't want to be just giving holes away. I hit a couple of wild drives early on (he drove into a bunker at the first and into the water at the seventh) and you can't afford to do that.

"It's a tough game to play and you want to get momentum."

Another disappointment for Europe on the opening morning came in Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer's match against Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson.

The European duo took the lead on the second hole but Garcia missed a couple of crucial putts to extend their advantage and USA hit back by winning five holes in a row in a 4&2 victory.

"When you have chances, you've got to take them," said Garcia. "Unfortunately we didn't and they did."

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